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 Wizards were thrilled to avoid what would have been the first 0-6 start in franchise history by beating the Utah Jazz 95-87 Wednesday 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 3-pointer that put Washington ahead 84-82 with 2 minutes left.
"The deciding factor," said Jazz point guard Deron Williams, who had eight points, seven assists and six rebounds in his second game of the season. "We hung our heads a little bit when he hit that shot."
That shot began a 12-0 Washington run that settled the outcome and was built on some uncharacteristically tough defense by the hosts. After all, the Wizards entered the night allowing opponents to shoot an NBA-high 50.2 percent and score an NBA-high 108.8 points.
"We did a lot of different things defensively. We had to," Jordan said. "We had to be disruptive."
Butler finished with 27 points and nine rebounds, while Jamison had 21 points and eight boards. They combined for 20 points in the final period, including Butler's 3-pointer with 30 seconds left that made it 91-82.
He dispensed with goggles he had planned to wear to protect the nasty gash above his left eyelid after bumping heads during Washington's 25-point loss to Orlando on Saturday.
"I'd had migraines and everything. I had to get some sleep finally. So I can sleep well tonight," Butler said.
As for his take-off-the-shirt celebration at game's end?
"King Kong was on my back. Throw the jersey off. Sigh of relief," he said.
He got a lot of help from first-round draft pick McGee, a 7-footer who left Nevada after his sophomore season. McGee set personal NBA bests with 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
"I was impressed," said Carlos Boozer, who paced Northwest Division-leading Utah with 20 points.
The Jazz were again without center Mehmet Okur, home in Turkey because of an illness in the family, while Andrei Kirilenko sprained his right index finger against Washington and now is listed as day to day.
Washington knows a thing or two about being short-handed.
Without All-Star point guard Gilbert Arenas -- no one seems to know when he'll be back from the latest operation on his left knee -- and center Brendan Haywood -- recovering from wrist surgery -- the Wizards were 0-5 for the second season in a row.
Now they'll hope to replicate something else from 2007-08: The Wizards followed that losing streak by winning six consecutive games.
"There was a sense of urgency to be in a close game and not let it slip away, to find a way to get it done," Jamison said. "Once you find a way to get that first one, it gets a little easier for you."
The Jazz, meanwhile, came in with a 6-1 record. But there was this: Utah was playing for the second consecutive night, while Washington had been idle since Saturday.
"I can't really say why," Utah's Kyle Korver said, "but it did feel like we were a little bit dead tonight."
Notes: Wizards PG Antonio Daniels returned to the starting lineup after missing a game and some practice time with a sore right knee. ... Washington held edges of 10-3 in blocked shots and 11-5 in steals.