This was, remember, Game 6 of 82, an early step in a long journey. Yet there was Caron Butler, near center court, animatedly pulling off his jersey and waving it at the final horn, celebrating a victory as though it truly meant a lot to him.
Moments earlier, as Butler and fellow All-Star Antawn Jamison were combining for 20 fourth-quarter points, there were their Washington Wizards teammates, up out of their sideline seats, hopping and high-fiving as though this were a playoff game.
When you're the only winless NBA team, every possession feels important as can be. So the host Wizards were thrilled to avoid what would have been the first 0-6 start in franchise history by beating the Utah Jazz, 95-87, last night, thanks mainly to Butler, Jamison and rookie JaVale McGee.
"Pat Riley says there's winning and there's misery. Well, for us there's relief and there's misery. So we got relief," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. "And hopefully it's a sign of what we can do on a nightly basis."
Butler and Jamison scored 15 consecutive Wizards points during the fourth quarter. The duo's spurt ended with Jamison's three-pointer that put Washington ahead 84-82 with two minutes left. That shot began a 12-0 Washington run that settled the outcome.
"The deciding factor," said Jazz point guard Deron Williams. "We hung our heads a little bit when he hit that shot."
Butler finished with 27 points and nine rebounds, and Jamison had 21 points and eight rebounds. McGee set personal NBA bests with 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Celtics 103, Hawks 102: : Paul Pierce hit a fall-away jumper with 0.5 of a second left, scoring 34 points in all as host Boston overcame a 16-point second-quarter deficit to win and hand Atlanta its first loss of the season. The Hawks' Joe Johnson (28 points) had found an open Marvin Williams for the go-ahead three-pointer with seven seconds left.
Et cetera:: The visiting Portland Trail Blazers celebrated Greg Oden's return to the lineup with a 104-96 victory over the Miami Heat. Oden, the 2007 No. 1 overall pick who missed all of last season and sprained his right foot in this season's opener, finished with three points and two rebounds in 16 minutes in his first action since spraining his right foot in Portland's season opener. Miami's Dwyane Wade scored 36. ... Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher each scored 20, and the visiting Los Angeles Lakers improved to 7-0 with a 93-86 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. ... Dwight Howard recorded his first career triple double with 30 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks and visiting the Orlando Magic beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 109-92. Oklahoma City played without Kevin Durant (sore left ankle). ... Wilson Chandler scored a career-high 27 points, missing only one of his 12 shots, and the New York Knicks made a franchise-record 19 three-pointers to beat the host Memphis Grizzlies, 132-103. ... Elton Brand scored a season-high 25 as the Philadelphia 76ers broke a three-game losing streak with a 106-96 win over the host Toronto Raptors. ... T.J. Ford had 18 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, and the banged-up Indiana Pacers won their third straight game with a 98-87 victory over the host New Jersey Nets. ... Andrew Bogut grabbed 17 rebounds and the host Milwaukee Bucks held on after a big run to beat the San Antonio Spurs, 82-78.
Off the court