Gilbert Arenas has had better nights in his career against far better defenses. He's had many times where he's needed a good performance because his confidence was waning a bit. He'll undoubtedly have better performances this season.
But as we all know, Gilbert needed this game badly. The numbers don't really jump out at you (22 points on 17 shots, with just five free throws), but the impact and the timing was key. Gilbert was able to set his teammates up well enough, and he was able to get just enough points to put the game out of reach. He was under control (only one turnover), and while some of the shots he took were contested too much, he mostly attacked when he needed to and laid back when he didn't.
Essentially, for one night, he timed his "takeover" moments perfectly. When Toronto was playing well early in the fourth quarter, Gilbert knew he needed to score and did just that with eight points in the first 4:35 of the quarter. Eventually, Toronto paid more attention to him, and Arenas laid back, using the attention paid to him to set up Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler for scores down the stretch. That's the sign of someone really putting his stamp on the game.
For all this talk about Gilbert returning to being the "aggressive Gil," this was a very Chauncey Billups-like performance from him. He didn't waste any many possessions with turnovers. He scored when he had to, drove when he should have and pulled up to shoot jumpers when he knew his team needed a hoop. When he was pressured more heavily, he found his teammates for scores.
Really, the guy who should be smiling along with Arenas is Flip Saunders. Yes, Toronto is awful defensively, but if Saunders really was trying to get Gilbert to be more like Chauncey, last night was a great success. That it was marketed as a "return to the old Gilbert" is all the better for Gilbert's psyche. If Gilbert wants to think this performance was a return to the Hibachi days, let him think that. Flip knows it was much different than that.
Four Factors (Bold=very good | Italics=very bad)
Snap Reaction: Now that's a low turnover rate. Flip Saunders is probably beaming about that.
Highest individual plus/minus: Brendan Haywood (+17 in 35:24)
Lowest individual plus/minus: Andray Blatche (-18 in 10:48)
Best five-man unit: Earl Boykins/Gilbert Arenas/Dominic McGuire/Antawn Jamison/Brendan Haywood (+8 for a stretch in the fourth quarter)
Worst five-man unit: Earl Boykins/Nick Young/Caron Butler/Andray Blatche/JaVale McGee (-8 for a very short stretch at the end of the third)
Snap Reaction: McGuire played meaningful minutes tonight and posted a sparking +14 in just under 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Caron Butler, despite scoring 19 points on 12 shots, was a -10. Again, Dominic should play more.
Other quick thoughts, because there's a game tonight as well:
- Brendan Haywood's post defense on Chris Bosh - I mean, wow. Bosh had 22 points, but most of those came in the second quarter, when Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee flailed away at him. If there was any doubt that Haywood's post defense is seriously awesome, last night's game should have eliminated it.
- That said, I do as a fan love Bosh's renewed aggression inside. However, it begs the question - why don't more teams cover him with their center? Bosh has been beasting on power forward all year, and as long as he's going to try to score inside rather than outside, why not put your strongest guy on him? Andrea Bargnani's floating at the three-point line anyway.
- Caron Butler scored well, but I thought he wasn't doing anything different from what he's doing all season The shots just went in, and they won't do that every game. He did hold Hedo Turkoglu down on defense, though I think that's mostly Hedo's own doing rather than anything Butler did. Hedo just looks like such a misfit on that team.
- This was a Big 3 win. They played the most minutes because the bench guys, other than Boykins, provided very little. If the Wizards are going to win tonight, they need more out of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Randy Foye.
- Credit Flip Saunders for making offense-defense substitutions down the stretch. His faith in Andray Blatche to hit free throws paid off tremendously.
- Down the stretch, I thought the Wizards did a nice job of taking Toronto off the three-point line. For the game, Toronto shot 38 percent from downtown, but in the fourth quarter, Jarrett Jack was the only guy to hit a three (I don't count Hedo's last-second garbage time one). Most significantly, Andrea Bargnani didn't even attempt one! I know Toronto shot 3-6 from three in the fourth quarter, but I can live with Jarrett Jack shooting out there. The key is preventing the guys who are the real snipers on the team -- the Calderons, Turkoglus, Bargnanis and Belinellis -- from even taking those shots. The Wizards didn't do that well most of the game, but did much better down the stretch.
- Here's an open question: when Mike Miller comes back, where do you slot him? I think Nick Young is developing nice chemistry with the starting unit, so it would seem bringing Miller off the bench makes sense. But if Arenas needs another ball-handler out there in the fourth quarter, what do you do with Miller? Do you sit him? Do you sit Butler? I'd think you'd have to choose one or the other, and I'd have a hard time saying Miller's the one to sit.