On a night where the Wizards could have very easily packed it in and accepted the blowout that most of us thought they would receive, the gave a strong enough effort (more assists than turnovers, 5 players with double-digit scoring games, limiting Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace to a combined 16 points) to earn an emphatic high five. But in the narrow loss they did just enough things wrong (missed free throws grabbing a total of zero (!) rebounds in the 2nd quarter) for that high five to end up feeling like a slap in the face.
Note to Gilbert Arenas: you have to make your free throws. He shot just 1-of-6 from the line on the night, with two key bricks in the final 26 seconds of the game that helped seal the loss for the Wizards. Aside from a poor showing at the line, Arenas turned in a fairly standard line -- 24 points on 11-of-23 shooting, eight assists, zero steals and four turnovers. Though my favorite stat of the night had to be the zero rebounds that the Wizards pulled down in the second quarter. Zero. Think about that one.
"The positive is that we’re in games," said Wizards head coach Flip Saunders, whose team has lost three games in a row that have been decided in the fourth quarter. "We’re not getting blown out. We’re in games. We had a situation where we were down two. We had our best player with the ball at the free throw line. He was expected to make those and didn’t." Arenas (25 points, 8 assists) retreated to the practice court immediately, where he knocked down 48 of 50 free throw attempts in a desperate search to figure out why he finished the night 1 for 6 at the line. "In a minute, it’s going to be called hack-a-Wizards," said Arenas, as Washington was a combined 14 for 22.
Arenas used to have a reputation as a reliable closer, but for the second time in as many home games, he came up short when his team needed him most. He missed two free throws that could've tied the game with 26.7 seconds remaining against the Celtics, after missing a point-blank layup that could've tied the game late against Toronto. The Wizards love to talk about how they compete against any team in the league when healthy, but right now they are proving that to be true. Competing isn't enough. The goal should be to win. Granted, they lost to the Celtics, a possible championship contender, but this team isn't winning games against anyone right now. That loss to Detroit on Sunday remains one of the most perplexing of the season.
Down two with :27 seconds left in the game, Gilbert Arenas did the right thing. Instead of being the passive, nervous player that many have criticized him for being this season, the former all-star drove to the lane and drew two fouls. He did what the star of the team had to do, he did what a closer needed to do. However despite drawing the foul, Arenas couldn't convert on his free-throws. Gil missed both, completely squandering the opportunity he had created for his team. But hasn't that been the story of the season for the Wizards so far this year? Their man, who used to be the man, can seemingly do everything but finish. He gets open, he makes the plays, but seemingly never when they count the most.
"We competed for the most part except that second quarter, but if we compete the way we did in the second half, we'll win our share of games and get things going in the right direction," Saunders said. "We had the situation where we were down two, had our best player at the free throw line, and you expect him to make those - and he didn't. He also got a pretty good look at a 3-pointer to tie it later - but didn't. We're doing things to put ourselves in good position, but unfortunately we haven't come up on the better end of the draw."
Even with Arenas missed free throws and the defensive breakdown that led to the Rondo dunk, the Wizards still had a chance in the closing seconds. Down 103-100 with 14.6 seconds left, the Wizards were able to get the ball in Arenas hands. Arenas was able to get a good look from the top of arc but his three point-attempt ricocheted into the corner. That’s when Randy Foye tracked down the rebound but he hurried a shot with 8.5 seconds left that fell short. "It was a tough place to be. KG let the ball roll so I thought the time was running out so I chased down the rebound," Foye recalled. "He gave up so I just tried to get a shot off real quick. I didn’t know how much time was on the clock."
"You got to understand when things are not going well, you got to continue to fight. Only way it's going to happen is to work hard and believe we're going to turn things around," Jamison said. "We're in games. We're competing. We're just not finding a way to get it done. Right now, it's getting tough but guys are still positive. Guys realize things are going to turn around." But that won't happen unless the Wizards find a way to play a full 48 minutes. They trailed 63-48 when Rondo hit a fadeaway jumper over Arenas. Arenas drew a foul on the Wizards' next possession, but as he stepped to the foul line, a group of fans in the upper deck began to chant, "Let's go Celtics!"
DeShawn Stevenson got the start in the second half and breathed some life back into this team. The Wizards opened the third quarter on a 22-6 run that got them back in the game. In his 16 minutes on the floor he only scored five points but the Wizards were +9 when he was in the game. This was the first time all season that the Wizards old starting line-up of Arenas, Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood had been on the floor together for an extended period. Another positive was the play of Haywood and Andray Blatche. The two combined for 34 points on 14-of-17 from the field.
How do the Wizards get Butler going? "That's what we keep on [saying]. We have our meetings, and we keep on talking about that," Saunders said. "To his credit, he's good defensively and he rebounded well. But we're not doing a good job setting screens and getting him open, and when he gets it, some of these teams are loding up on him. ... We're hoping that by pushing the ball up the floor more, we can get him some more open-floor opportunities, but we do have to get him free on more situations."
Point: Brendan Haywood finished the night with 17 points on a perfect 7 for 7 from the field, including nine points right after the break in which the Wizards trimmed the 14-point halftime margin completely with a 22-6 run that culminated with taking the lead, 72-70, when Arenas gave up the ball in the lane to Jamison for the And-1. Counterpoint: Of course, Jamison missed the free throw and Allen took the lead right back with a three at the other end -- a jumper that just so happened to give him 20,000 points in his career. Nice touch. It also sparked a 13-2 run for the Celtics that restored a nine-point advantage at the end of the third.
"Clearly (the Wizards') game plan was they weren't going to guard (Rondo)," said Rivers. "They were going to give him shots and he took them. That's what we tell him: 'Once it's your shot, it's your shot. No more passing or being a point guard. When it's time to shoot, it's time to shoot. You're a shooter.'
Best of Twitterville
Twitter / Truth_About_It
Walked in media room bathroom just b/f the game, Gheorghe Muresan was squatting over a urinal trying 2 pee, turned around & walked back out.
Twitter / Jon Lewallen
Unless I missed it before the game, I have a feeling they're not going to ask Webber about Abe Pollin.
Twitter / Jack Kogod
Just begged Ted Leonsis to bring back the old colors/name. Time will tell. #wizards
Twitter / Mike Prada
If the #Wizards do indeed win, they have Gilbert Arenas and Andray Blatche to thank. Both guys have really come to play tonight.
Twitter / Mike Jones
7-Day-Dray got posterized, whipped off the headband, then schooled Rasheed Wallace.
Twitter / wizznutzz
deshawn should get ABE logo patch tattoo on the neck of his Lincoln tat
Twitter / Andrew Sharp
I love how jamison's leaning threes are like, actually a part of our offense.
Twitter / Wolf Blitzer
Ernie Grunfeld is Wizards President. He's a great guy and (again full disclosure) a good friend. He assembled this team.
Twitter / J.E. Skeets
I wonder who Gil will "blame" those missed free throws on. Spalding? Wolf Blitzer? Me?
Twitter / Agent Dagger
How can that man be so good at shooting three's to win games, but he can't hit the free throws..De ja vu from Cleveland series
Twitter / George V. Panagakos
@AgentDagger If I'm Foye, I don't end the game with a lay-up, I jack another three; hope he has a body guard in that locker room