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Poor Flip. Do you still think he would've taken the job in Washington if he had known nine games in that he would 2-7 and that Earl Boykins and Mike Miller would be the team's leading scorers in his first game against his former team? I know he'd point out that Jamison and Foye are injured and the team is still getting used to each other and a new system, but you have to think in the back of his mind if he's wondering if he's become latest victim of this snake-bitten franchise.
The Wizards hadn't topped 90 points since scoring a season-high 123 points against New Jersey on Oct. 31. Coming off a game in which they scored a season-low 76 against the Miami Heat, the Wizards reached that total with 3:32 left in the third quarter. They went ahead 78-69 when Caron Butler rebounded his own miss and made a layup. But the Wizards got too comfortable with the lead, and the Pistons closed out the period on a 9-2 run. "The stuff we did in the third quarter, that was the 19-win Wizards, from last year," Haywood said. "We don't need that."
"It's like we're inventing ways to put ourselves in the hole," coach Flip Saunders said. "One thing that's very obvious with us - and has to change - is that if we don't make shots, the energy gets sucked out of us and we become very stagnant in the defense, and that carries over into the offense. Just because you're not making shots, you can't let that dictate the level of effort that you play with."
Despite the loss, tonight was far more encouraging than previous losses in what is now a six game losing streak. The Wizards put points on the board at a better rate than they had since they played the Nets at the end of October. Mike Miller returned and gave the club the versatility they have been missing, and Earl Boykins provided a tiny surge of energy off the bench that they have been missing.
Saunders said he didn't notice any sentimental feelings over facing his former team, partly because Hamilton and fellow star Tayshaun Prince are hurt and did not play and because the Wizards entered having lost five straight games. Hamilton, whose team went from championship contender to barely making the playoffs following Saunders' dismissal, said he still misses his former coach. The Pistons averaged 58 wins a season under Saunders, then were the No. 8 seed with a 39-43 record last season under Michael Curry. "Yo, from having him here to Michael Curry, it was night and day," Hamilton said. "And I told [Saunders], it was like, 'Yo, Flip, you were great at what you did!' It made me appreciate what he brought to the team and how he made the game easier and just allowed you to go out there and make plays."
During the third quarter, I thought I'd be cutting and pasting an old song here to explain how the Pistons lost. The Pistons were well on their way to allowing another 40-point quarter, giving up 17 points in just the first four minutes of the third and falling behind by as many as 10 points despite having an eight point lead at the half. Then Will Bynum took over and scored the final nine points for the Pistons in the third and pulled them back to within two heading into the fourth.
Prior to the game, Coach Flip Saunders mentioned that Mike Miller’s return from a shoulder injury would spread the floor and help Arenas and others get open shots, and for most of the game he did just that. Miller scored 20 points, and was able to knock down several open shot, which helped Arenas, Earl Boykins, Andray Blatche and Caron Butler get excellent open looks from the outside. But during a crucial point towards the end of the game, at the 2:34 mark of the fourth quarter, Miller was removed from the lineup with the Wizards up two points. During the next two minutes of the game while Miller was out, and the lineup of Butler, Blatche, Haywood, Arenas and Boykins were in the game, the absence of Miller was noticeable. On two separate occasions the floor spacing was terrible, and both Boykins and Arenas took contested, rushed shots. The lead disappeared with Miller on the bench, and the Pistons went up by two point. With 48 seconds left, Miller returned, but the Wizards never led again.
Even more troubling, Butler seemed to have better on-court chemistry with Boykins -- a guy who was plucked off the street on Wednesday -- than Arenas, someone who has been his teammate the past four seasons. That might seem baffling, but it's true. "He was great," Butler said. "He was a guy that distributed the ball and made plays, got into the paint, made plays and a lot of times I was playing a two-man game with him. He was finding me, throwing the ball back, which was something I wasn't accustomed to. He was throwing the ball back and getting me nice little shots, getting other guys into the offense, so he's a pleasure to have out there, definitely." Butler didn't necessarily call out Arenas, but you can definitely read between the lines. These guys have been making comments, veiled or otherwise, about each other since this losing streak began. Arenas said Butler needed to be more of a catch-and-shoot player, then he made a comment about certain players needing to move the ball more on offense (at the time, Butler had just four assists on the season), then Butler said the team doesn't need anybody to be a hero and make spectacular plays (I don't think he was talking about Haywood there).
Agent Zero is back?
I've been working on a post about this very subject for the last few days. What transpired last night confirms a lot of my thoughts about the Gilbert vs. Agent Zero dilemma.
Gilbert Arenas had an announcement to make as walked through the locker room on Saturday. Arenas lifted his headphones from his ears, smiled and proclaimed, "I'm Zero. I'm not Gilbert no more." "Gilbert's not working out," said Arenas, who claimed that he retired his Agent Zero and Hibachi personas on media day. Asked why he decided to go back to Agent Zero, Arenas said, "It ain't working if we lost five in a row. Coach told me he didn't want the angry man no more. So, he's back."
Third quarter: Arenas sets the tone, with a runner right out of the game and two huge three’s a short time later. He’s orchestrating the break with long and short passes, and picking his spots for pure unselfishness, giving up the ball to Boykins for a wide open three. One turnover is cancelled out by a steal. This is the Arenas that Flip Saunders needs. Final line: 8 points (3 for 4), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal Actual value: We’ll buy that for a dollar. Arenas: "I find myself doing more thinking than I am just reacting off my instincts. Players in this league, they react. I was a reactor. Now I find myself being a thinker. Just the Miami game [in which he had 12 turnovers], I’m concentrating on getting assists, averaging 8 assists, averaging 9 assists because I want to be labeled a point guard. I catch myself trying to force assists. Today I was like, you know what, forget the assists, forget the turnovers, I’m just going to go out there and just do whatever. I end up getting 10, like [holy guy].
Back before three operations in 1 1/2 years on his left knee, Arenas used to be the guy who would take over games late in quarters, and he showed some flashes Saturday: He sank a 3-pointer from about 30 feet right at the end of the first half, hopping in place as the ball cut through the net. And when he made back-to-back 3s at another point, he waved his palms in front of him, the old Hibachi signal that he was hot. "Mike Miller(notes) told me to bring it back," said Arenas, who ended up with 19 points and 10 assists. "Everyone wants the fun guy back." But Arenas also was deferential at times to the 5-foot-5 Boykins, who signed with Washington on Wednesday, went through two days of practice, and scored 20 points in his first NBA game since April 2008.
There were some crazy things about the fourth quarter. Gilbert took only three shots all fourth quarter, and it wasn't like he was serving as set-up man, because he had only one assist in the fourth. In what was the first time he's really opened up since the season started, he admitted that he's struggling to figure out what role to play under Flip Saunders. "Its frurstraing for me because I know I can take over in fourth quarters ... but I dont want to take away from the team," Arenas said. [DeShawn Stevenson] got mad at me today, because in the fourth quarter I only took three shots. He said, 'Before, this wouldnt have happened. You would have taken over the fourth quarter, even if you had to take every shot.' I feel i dont have to do that this early because of what we have here."
Like everything else about Gilbert's game right now, even Agent Zero is in a bit of a transition. He's still trying to find a happy medium with everything right now and I think you saw a microcosm of that tonight in his performance. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of the true Agent Zero soon.
Twitter / Mike Jones
It's amazing how small Earl is. They HAD to have gotten that uniform custom made.
Twitter / Andrew Sharp
What'd I tell you? Crowd (and team) alive for the first time all night. Energy. Earl Boykins!!!
Twitter / Michael Lee
Ah, yes. Nothing can elicit boos in this place like the mere mention of "Kwame Brown." He's still got it.
Twitter / Jack Kogod
Just saw a guy in a Flip Saunders jersey. I'd mock, but there's a "SPURRIER" Redskins jersey in the back of my closet.
Twitter / The BF gang
Apparently someone knocked some sense into Mike Miller. It's a pleasure watching him actually shoot.
Twitter / Hardwood Paroxysm
Hey Flip, down two with 50 ticks left, here's a list of who you want to take that shot: NOT EAR BOYKINS. The end.
Twitter / Truth_About_It
Agent Turnover rears his ugly head ... looks for a foul that he does not get. DET hits 1 FTs, up 99-96 with 39.3 left.
Twitter / Chase Hughes
What happened to Gil being Mr. smooth at the end of the game? He's made some serious mistakes this year when it really counts.