WASHINGTON -- There was no way that last shot could go in. No way the Washington Wizards could lose their first game in 46 seasons without their beloved owner.
Louis Williams' 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out, giving the Wizards an emotional 108-107 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night, hours after the death of team owner Abe Pollin.
"I guess Mr. P, he probably contested that last shot better than anybody," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said.
Down the hall, the opposing coach -- who worked for Pollin until last season -- uttered the same thought.
"Maybe Abe's spirit knocked that out," 76ers coach Eddie Jordan said.
Antawn Jamison had 32 points and 14 rebounds, and Nick Young returned from end-of-the-bench exile to add 20 points for the Wizards on a night when the team's internal squabbling felt extremely trite. The focus of this game was going to be Jordan's return to Washington exactly one year to the day after he was fired, along with Gilbert Arenas' squabbles with teammate Caron Butler over how to play in Saunders' new offensive system.
Instead, the arena was full of heavy hearts paying tribute to Pollin, who died at the age of 85.
"It was a hard evening," said Arenas, who had 17 points and eight assists but also six turnovers. "But at the end of the day Abe Pollin loved us so much that we couldn't feel the pain until after the game. We had to go out there and just play. He wouldn't want us to stop doing what he loved."
Williams' layup pulled Philadelphia to 108-107 with 40 seconds remaining. After Arenas committed a turnover, Williams dribbled down the clock and missed the potential game-winning shot.
"I think those guys went out there and played hard, and you could kind of tell there was sadness in the stadium," Philadelphia guard Andre Iguodala said. "But they came in and supported their team tonight and came up with a win."
There was a moment of silence before the national anthem was played at Verizon Center, which Pollin built mostly with his own money. The arena has helped revitalize a downtown area torn apart by riots in the 1960s.
"He would want us to celebrate his life and not mourn his death," Saunders said before the game. "That's just the individual he was. But when you're here going through it, it's not that easy."
But the coach with the closer relationship to Pollin was on the other bench.
"He hired me to come back to coach a team that I'm a big fan of, my hometown team," said Washington native Jordan, whom Pollin hired in 2003. "It was a 10-minute interview and I shook his hand. He said, 'You know I don't live by contracts, I go by handshakes.' And I walked out and said, 'Gee, did I take a job, or what happened there?"
The Wizards led by 11 early in the fourth, but the 76ers pulled to 100-97 on Rodney Carney's 3-pointer with 3:16 remaining. Jrue Holiday made a 3 and followed with a tip-in after stripping the ball from Arenas to draw Philadelphia to 98-94 with 4:26 left.
But Washington hung on to win. This time, however, the owner wasn't there to congratulate his players. Pollin no longer made it to every game because of his failing health, but he was there often enough to encourage the players he treated like sons.
"I talked to him maybe about a week and a half ago and mentally he was still the same Mr. Pollin," Jamison said, "knowing we were going to turn things around, telling me I'm his guy and he believes in me. After wins, knowing you won't hear that voice saying 'Good job, men,' and 'I believe in you,' it's going to be tough."
The Wizards were missing two starters: Butler sat out with a sore right ankle, and Mike Miller is sidelined several weeks with a strained left calf. Young, who played only one minute in three of the last four games, got his second start of the season. ... Washington backup C JaVale McGee had a career-high six blocks.
AP freelance writer Tim Hipps contributed to this report.
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