Wizards 108, Bucks 105: Houston, we have a rivalry

The story of this win over the Bucks is, and should be, Gilbert Arenas' buzzer-beating shot.  Any respectible sports journalist would understand that, in a game won on a buzzer-beater, the shot itself becomes the story.  The moment itself is significant; the previous 47, not as much.

At the same time, no team can win a game on one play, no matter how incredible it is.  Every play has been preceeded by another, and a difference in any one sequence affects the game equally no matter the timing.  This seems like an obvious point, but you'd be amazed at how many incredible games are remembered only for their endings.

In this spirit, the game was not won by Gilbert Arenas' shot, but rather by a teamwide turnaround in the last 16 minutes of the game.  More specifically, the game was won by a teamwide turnaround indicating that the Wizards are more than just a middle of the pack Eastern Conference curiosity.  

With 4:22 left in the third quarter, Brian Skinner rebounded a Michael Redd miss and slammed it home to give Milwaukee an 80-72 lead.  To that point, much of the talk centered around the Bucks' befuddling zone defense, but the reality was that the Wizards were letting the game slip away on the other end.  The Wizards offense was performing fine -- fine, mind you, not great -- but the Wizards defense was horrendous, allowing the Bucks to shoot 56 percent from the field.  The three-guard offense of Michael Redd, Maurice Williams, and Charlie Bell was doing the most damage, with the former two scoring nearly half of the Bucks' points.  The Wizards, coming off a so-so three game stretch of two ugly wins over Charlotte and Orlando and a loss to the Bucks, didn't seem to want to play the defense necessary to win.  It was the same old story; good offense, horrible defense, and a close loss.

But with the team struggling, it was the defense, and not the offense, that saved the day.  In the final 16:22 of the game, the Bucks shot only 8 for 26 from the field and turned the ball over 9 times.  Williams, who was killing the Wizards once again, scored only 2 points on 1 of 6 shooting the rest of the way.  Andray Blatche, playing for a hobbled Brendan Haywood, swatted two shots away, and Caron Butler blocked a potential game tying layup from Michael Redd with three minutes to go.  Even Antawn Jamison got into the act with two key third-quarter steals.  The Wizards offense scored 36 points since Skinner's dunk -- a feat they've matched or eclipsed 13 times in a single quarter this season  -- but only surrendered 25 points to Milwaukee in that same span.  That, and not Arenas' incredible shot, won them this game.

If you've followed this team in the Arenas-Jamison-Jordan era, you'll understand why I'm positively giddy about this win.  I've longed said that the Wizards perimeter players have the athleticism necessary to play solid defense, and it was only bad technique and coaching that held them back.  When I see a defensive performance like this, against a team rivaling the Wizards as the best offense in the league this side of Phoenix or a healthy Denver, my optimism is vindicated.  It's also hard to point to one guy who stepped up defensively, making the whole situation even more uplifting.  It says something that the best shots the Bucks could get in the last minute were two long Charlie Bell three-pointers.  That final minute pointed to a great team effort defensively, not just one guy playing his man effectively.

Yes, they still only did it for 16 minutes.  And yes, it occured at the phone booth against a middling team.  And yes, the Wizards still haven't consistently shown the ability to defend on the road.  But it's still the defense as much as the Arenas buzzer beater that has me positively giddy about this win.  It's games like these that make me believe the Wizards are taking the next step necessary to becoming a true Eastern Conference contender.  

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