The victory, however, went to Jordan, whose criticism of his
Washington Wizards teammates seemed to motivate them.
After losing three of their last four by a combined seven points, the suddenly serious Wizards got 31 points from Jerry Stackhouse, 23 from Jordan and double figures from all five starters in Tuesday night's 106-105 victory over the Orlando Magic.
Jordan ripped his young teammates for not matching his
40-year-old desire and effort after losses Friday and Sunday,
defeats which sank the Wizards into deep trouble in the playoff
chase in Jordan's final season.
"Someone needed to say it, and I said it,'' Jordan said. "Today the effort was a lot better, and the end result shows that. If my criticism had anything to do with it, so be it.''
Jordan said he did not regret making his criticisms public.
"The truth hurts. It would be just the opposite for us to sugarcoat it,'' Jordan said. "We play publicly.''
Stackhouse had also complained about his role in the offense, and owner Abe Pollin stepped in and addressed the team Tuesday morning. All that turmoil forced itself onto the stage of a thrilling Jordan-McGrady finale.
"We felt coming in tonight like we were coming into the lion's den,'' Orlando coach Doc Rivers. "We knew they were angry. Their player-coach-owner challenged them. It was a smart thing to do. They got something out of everybody.''
Said Stackhouse: "The motive was to try to inspire the play, and the motive worked. Everybody came out and played inspired.''
Jordan matched his career high with nine turnovers, but he made
10 of 18 shots, including a driving layup for Washington's final
field goal to put the Wizards up by three with 25 seconds remaining.
But no one could touch McGrady, who made 16 of 26 shots and seemed to score at will over Jordan -- and everybody else. McGrady did his best to catch up in the waning moments, making two long 3-pointers in the final six seconds. But Stackhouse's 6-for-6 free-throw shooting in the final minute kept the Wizards' lead safe.
"I wanted to come out and have a big game for myself individually because this is my last time playing against him,'' McGrady said. "It's kind of a message like, 'OK, you did what you had to do. Now it's up to us. You're passing the torch to guys like myself and Kobe (Bryant).' "
Yet his team lost.
"That hurts more than anything,'' McGrady said. "The game that I had really doesn't mean anything. He called his teammates out and they responded.''
Said Jordan: "What battle? He hit everything he could. He's shown the growth over the last three years. I guess the best battle would be to see him playing against Kobe instead of him playing against me. But we won the game.''
The Jordan-McGrady show started early. McGrady played a classic Jordan trick one minute into the game, fooling Jordan with a pump fake to draw a foul and set up a three-point play.
Jordan responded with a baseline fade over McGrady on the next
possession, and the duel was underway. McGrady had 15 points in the
first quarter, while Jordan had 10.
The Wizards made 30 of 32 free throws. ... It was McGrady's second consecutive 43-point game. ... Orlando has scored 100-plus points in seven straight and nine of 10. ... Both teams shot 53
percent. ... The Wizards didn't make a 3-pointer, while the Magic had 11. ... Orlando's Darrell Armstrong literally shot the lights out. His 75-foot heave at the first-half buzzer sailed long and dislodged the red time-expired light behind the backboard. It was fixed before the second half began. ... Jordan on Charles Barkley's prediction that the Wizards won't make the playoffs: "I never
considered him a prophet, anyway.''
Stugotz thinks Kobe Bryant was off base in his Players' Tribune letter to his 17-year-old self about how he would have distributed money he made from basketball to his family and friends.
Reese Waters and Sarah Spain break down all the ways Kobe Bryant's well-intentioned letter to his younger self turned into Bryant bashing his own friends and family.
ESPN Thunder reporter Royce Young explains why Enes Kanter has been receiving death threats following the failed military coup in Turkey.