LOS ANGELES (TICKER) —The largest crowd to witness a professional basketball game in Southern California got what it came for.
With most of the Staples Center crowd behind him, Michael Jordan collected 23 points, 12 assists and six rebounds before fouling out for the first time in 11 years as the Washington Wizards held on for an 108-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
With many of the announced crowd of 20,578 wearing Jordan merchandise and holding up signs, Jordan did not disappoint, especially in the third quarter, when he scored 13 points and hit five baskets over the final 5:03.
Jordan capped the big third quarter with a fadeaway jumper with 25 seconds left as Washington built a 84-71 lead.
“When you’re on the road, there’s a certain poise, a certain confidence you gotta have,” Jordan said. “Our veterans gave us a lot of leadership today, and we needed a win.”
Tuesday was Jordan’s first game against the Clippers at the Staples Center. He was injured when the Wizards endured a 96-75 defeat here on March 13, 2002 and was making his first appearance in Los Angeles against the Clippers since November 21, 1997, when he scored 49 points for the Chicago Bulls in a double-overtime win.
Jordan was on the bench as the Clippers opened the fourth quarter with an 11-5 spurt, pulling within 89-85 on Lamar Odom’s layup with 8:48 remaining.
On his first touch of the final period, Jordan’s committed a turnover that led to Andre Miller’s 3-pointer at the 7:58 mark, slicing the deficit to 89-88.
Just over a minute later, Jordan missed a jumper and Elton Brand made an 18-footer at the other end to get Los Angeles within 91-90.
But on Washington’s next trip, Jordan tipped the ball to Brendan Haywood, who dunked, was fouled and sank the free throw for a 94-90 advantage with 6:16 remaining.
“Michael just has a tremendous will to win,” Clippers coach Alvin Gentry said. “If I could give one thing to our players, especially from him, it would be the fact that the most important thing to him is winning the game. He’s just got an unbelievable will to win. He does whatever is necessary. In order to be a great player, that’s the attitude you’ve got to have.”
“I thought we did a great job,” Washington coach Doug Collins said. “They made a little push at us and I thought we made some big baskets. We had some guys really play well for us tonight, and we had to in order to beat that team.”
Los Angeles, which twice rallied from 11-point deficits in Tuesday’s win at Phoenix, had two chances to tie with just under 3 1/2 minutes to go. But Quentin Richardson missed a short jumper and Corey Maggette blew a layup.
Jordan made just 8-of-24 shots from the floor and fouled out for the first time since 1992. He drew his sixth foul for a block on Maggette with 14 seconds left and received a standing ovation.
“It’s gratification for the work that I’ve provided playing the game,” Jordan said. “You know my passion for the game, and I think people have seen that through the years and it gives me great appreciation that they respect my game and things I’ve done for the game of basketball. And it makes me feel really good.”
Jordan walked off and smiled at the crowd, which prodded him to take a curtain call. He watched Maggette make the second foul shot and Odom hit a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to make it 106-104.
But Tyronn Lue sealed the win with a pair of free throws as the Wizards ended a six-game road losing streak.
The future Hall of Famer also had plenty of help from his teammates, who rebounded from Tuesday’s loss at Sacramento in which they shot 4-of-25 in the third quarter.
Jordan, who turns 40 on Monday, was held to six points in the first half, but the Wizards bolted to a 27-19 lead after 12 minutes.
The Clippers shot 61 percent in the second quarter to climb into a 51-51 halftime tie.