Flip Saunders' mass benching in the third quarter was the type of watershed moment in a team's season. It was Saunders playing the desperation card. It was yet another one of those "let's get a spark" moments, in the same vein as starting DeShawn Stevenson or yo-yoing Nick Young and Randy Foye, except this was much more drastic. It was Saunders saying he was willing to lose the battle (an analogy RamV made nicely in the postgame thread last night) if it meant winning the war.
And yet, as it turned out, the Wizards won the battle too. Sure, it was the 76ers, who displayed pathetic half-court defense all night, but it was a won battle. For that, we have two people to thank: Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.
Both players took over the game in the fourth quarter, singlehandily erasing a seven-point deficit with smart, efficient plays. The two scores 22 of the Wizards' 33 points in the period, and the key was that they attacked the hoop with quick moves. For Arenas, this is no surprise -- that's what he did when he was healthy, and that's what he's supposed to do now -- but for Butler, it was a welcome change from the whole "pump-fake, jab-step, pump-fake, dribble, 20-foot jumper" play we've always seen from him. They both played off each other well and both deferred to each other at the proper times. I'm sure that I'll find a chance to pick out specific plays when I'm not writing from an airport wifi connection, but for now, let's just say they blended together unlike they really ever have before.
And that's kind of the key here. For all the problems with this team, the real issue was that Arenas and Butler weren't blending, both on and off the court. For better or worse, you know what you'll get from Antawn Jamison -- a ton of shots (though he took fewer tonight, which was as good as his mid-quarter tantrum was bad), a ton of production, solid rebounding, bad defense and an overall net positive -- so asking him to provide a spark is asking the wrong person. Brendan Haywood and Mike Miller are what they are (which, ironically, is a classic Miller quote). Nick Young, Andray Blatche and Randy Foye are too inconsistent to be relied upon as an everyday spark, while Earl Boykins will trade games like tonight with games like Golden State, when he was dominated. Asking those guys to perform beyond themselves is asking too much. But asking Arenas and Butler to do the same -- well, that's what they're paid to do. They're the starts, and when your stars aren't performing, you won't win.
Butler and Arenas have created a lot of self-inflicted barriers to success this year. Arenas didn't need to call out Butler publicly for taking assists away from him because he wasn't catching and shooting. Butler didn't (and arguably still doesn't) need to keep saying stuff like "my resume speaks for itself" to the press. Both players could certainly have done more to try to fit in with Saunders' system. I don't know if those barriers have inevitably been dropped -- they probably haven't. But for one night at least, they put all the bullshit (excuse the language) behind them and just played.
Maybe it took a benching to motivate both of them. Who knows? What I do know is that Saunders' gutsy move looks like it paid off in the short-term. Considering it was probably seen as more of a long-term move than a short-term one, that's a pretty nice bonus.
Four Factors (Bold=very good | Italics=very bad)
Snap Reaction: They shot way too well, but at least we kept them off the offensive glass and took care of the ball ourselves.
Highest individual plus/minus: Earl Boykins (+13 in 25:54)
Lowest individual plus/minus: Nick Young and Fabricio Oberto (-4 in 20:00 and 16:18, respectively)
Best five-man unit: Earl Boykins/Gilbert Arenas/Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison/Andray Blatche (+7 to begin the fourth quarter)
Worst five-man unit: Gilbert Arenas/Randy Foye/Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison/Brendan Haywood (-7 to start the third quarter)
Snap Reaction: The little man (Boykins) brought it tonight. I guess I need to give him props.