|New York @ Washington|
|90 - 89|
That was one of many rewards for Steve Francis on Saturday night, when he shook off a gash on his shooting hand to swish a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave the New York Knicks a 90-89 victory over the Washington Wizards .
The shot completed a late comeback, moved the Knicks into a tie for eighth in the Eastern Conference, and eased some of the pain of a trying season for Francis. He grew up in nearby Silver Spring, Md., then starred at the University of Maryland, and his grandmother, Mabel Wilson, was among about 100 friends and relatives in the stands cheering for Francis.
"She sits there, every time I come," Francis said. "She's been there for eight years. This is my eighth season. She's always there."
Francis finished with 26 points and seven rebounds, despite cutting his right hand below the thumb when he dunked the ball after a whistle.
He didn't seem to show any ill effects as he dribbled behind his back to get space away from defender Antonio Daniels and released the winning shot with about a second on the clock. When the ball went through, Francis hopped on the scorers' table, crossed his arms and nodded at the crowd, before teammates mobbed him. After Francis got down, he met Wilson for a hearty embrace, before teammate Nate Robinson jumped on the guard's back for a ride across the court.
"Just happy, man, that we won. A win is a win. I don't care how you get it," Francis said. "Anybody will tell you that they'll be excited just to win. We've been struggling."
He has, too, averaging a career-worst 9.7 points and playing in fewer than half of the Knicks' games this season because of right knee tendinitis. He even left the team to rehab on his own in Houston.
"He was so hyped and he wanted to play well here in Washington," Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. "That's a big moment in his time here with the Knicks."
Francis' final flourish was precisely the type of thing Washington's Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation for producing. Arenas finished with 25 points Saturday, but he never had a chance to hit the winner.
The Wizards were up 82-76 with about 3 1/2 minutes to go, but New York kept whittling that, and Arenas missed a layup with 40 seconds left and Washington ahead 86-84.
"That was a really tough loss," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said, "but we have to move forward."
The game devolved late into a display of poor free-throw shooting by both teams. The Knicks finished 16-for-28 from the line (57 percent) - and Francis even appeared to blow a chance to send it to overtime with 7.1 seconds left. With Washington up 88-85, Francis drove and was fouled by Caron Butler . Francis' shot went in, but with a three-point play in the offing, he clanged the foul shot.
Washington's Andray Blatche grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled, but he went only 1-for-2 from the line, setting up Francis.
"We didn't make the plays we needed to win the basketball game," Daniels said. "We gave them every opportunity to win the game."
The Knicks held a 44-35 rebounding advantage and outscored the Wizards 40-26 in the paint. Plus, low-scoring games are rarely to Washington's liking, and both teams shot worse than 42 percent.
New York's Eddy Curry had 19 points and nine rebounds, and Stephon Marbury scored 15 points - well off the 37.3 he averaged over the previous three games. Quentin Richardson was a late scratch with a sore lower back, and the Knicks already were without Jamal Crawford and David Lee .
So for Southeast Division-leading Washington, it was the latest example of having trouble against an undermanned opponent, including losses to Denver without Carmelo Anthony , Memphis without Pau Gasol , and - in its previous game - to Atlanta without Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams .
"You have to tip your hat to New York," said Washington's Antawn Jamison , who scored 18 before fouling out. "They fought, they continued to play well, and they found a way to get it done."
Before the game, Thomas was asked whether it would mean something to pull even with the Orlando Magic for the final postseason seeding in the East with 19 games left.
"Stop the season, we are in the playoffs, no more games to play," Thomas said, breaking into a wide grin. "You have to play some more, but it would be good to be in a position where now you have control of your own destiny."
After making a 3-pointer in the third quarter, Francis turned and slapped palms with Thomas. ... Washington is at Miami on Sunday; the Heat have won 17 of the teams' past 18 meetings. "After a win, we're going to have a party in Miami," Jordan said, then paused to gauge reporters' reactions. "You can write it," he continued. "I didn't guarantee it, but you can write it."