When the Wizards come away with a close one point win, the good things they do tend to be equal in quantity to the bad things they do. With that in mind, let's break down what exactly was good and bad in this win.
-Caron Butler proved once again why he deserves to be an all-star. With Arenas struggling, Butler was the focal point of the offense, and he devastated the Knicks with a series of pull-up jumpers and pretty drives. He even did some of the little things well tonight. He dished out 10 assists, and made a great cut to the rim right as DeShawn Stevenson made the drive down the baseline at the end of the game. Effectively, Butler and Stevenson proved that you can't double Arenas at the end of games, because the rest of the Wizards can still beat you.
Outside of LeBron, Butler is the best small forward in the East, and really only is behind LeBron, Melo, Josh Howard, and Shawn Marion at the small forward position in the entire association. It would be crazy if he wasn't on the all-star team.
-Arenas didn't score very much, but tonight's game was one of those that demonstrated his growth as an all-around player. He willingly deferred to Butler offensively when it was clear that Butler could exploit the Knicks defense, and contributed greatly in other areas of the game. He had 9 rebounds, two blocks, and played suffocating perimeter defense on Stephon Marbury, holding him to 4 of 16 from the field. It's games like these that make me wonder why Arenas struggles as a defender. He has the ability; he just needs to tap into it.
-DeShawn Stevenson had a really great game, scoring 10 points, playing great perimeter defense, and making the key drive and pass at the end of the game. He also did this while nursing a leg injury that may continue to bother him. Marbury and Jamal Crawford combined to shoot 7 of 29 tonight, and Stevenson was one of the main reasons why.
-Jarvis Hayes, apparently feeling slighted by my answers to Seth's questions, went out and played well, with 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting. Don't be fooled though. He won't make some of the shots he hit today in most games.
-As great as Caron played offensively, what was the deal with allowing Quentin Richardson to score 35 points and grab 10 rebounds? Richardson pretty much singlehandily kept the Knicks in the game, hitting on 7 of 12 of his threes and also hitting many at key moments. I was forced to audio league pass this one, so I wasn't able to watch the breakdown of the Wizards defense, but a lot of that has to go on Butler. It's one thing for your man to constantly drive by you, but it's another thing entirely when you're letting him shoot over you. Butler has the athletic ability, but he needs to stop losing concentration.
-Eddie Jordan's substitution patters. Seriously, Donnell Taylor at the end of the game? Huh? I know Stevenson was hurting, but why turn to Donnell Taylor? This is the same Donnell Taylor that Jordan was not pleased with in training camp, and was very close to being cut. As Unsilent mentioned the other day, it seems like Jordan doesn't even have a master plan at all. If so, wouldn't he put in Antonio Daniels at the end of the game instead of Taylor? Daniels was one of the crunch time guys last year, but now Donnell Taylor is playing just as many minutes in a close game? Huh? I'm baffled.
Also, just because Hayes was having a good game doesn't make it right to play him at power forward again. It makes even less sense when you consider that David Lee is a rebounding machine. How is Hayes supposed to keep Lee off the glass? Why not just play Hayes and Butler on the wings with Jamison and Haywood/Thomas? Is Butler really too slow to play the 2? I think not.
-The Wizards have to put this game away in the third quarter, when they had the 11 point lead. If you're blowing leads like that at home to a team like the Knicks, it doesn't bode well for playoff time.
In the end, I'm glad Stevenson and Butler saved the Wizards, but you can't just expect to win all these games at the buzzer. As much as we want to believe that Arenas or someone else will always come through, it doesn't happen that way. Suddenly, the margin for error becomes smaller, and any one play can decide a game. What if Jamison doesn't come to meet Brendan Haywood on the second to last posession, when Jamison hit the go-ahead layup. What if Haywood throws the ball away? What if Jamison misses? What if Stevenson shoots the long three instead of driving baseline? Too many bad things can happen if you keep games close.
In the last two seasons, the Bucks and Jazz have raced off to fast starts, only to fall off once the calendar year changed. In both cases, they were winning a lot of thrilling close games early in the season. Eventually, those thrillers become losses, as the Jazz witnessed just last Monday at the Verizon Center, and you end up back where you started, as an average team. You can't just expect to win every close game.
I'm not saying the Wizards will fall off like the Bucks and Jazz did, but you have to be concerned when three of the last four home games have been decided at the buzzer.