Pistons, 98, Wizards, 96
Regardless of the final result, the mere presence of Gilbert Arenas sent a jolt of energy into the Washington Wizards and their fans that has been absent all season. Arenas has a flare for the dramatic, so it was only fitting that he had an opportunity to decide the game in the closing seconds. But it was obvious that he hasn't played an NBA game in more than 11 months, because even he questioned his decision-making on that final, futile shot.
With the Wizards trailing by two and 4.5 seconds left, Arenas missed his second free throw -- which he admitted he didn't do intentionally -- and fought off Richard Hamilton to corral the loose ball. He plenty of time to call timeout, or even take a better shot to force overtime. Instead, Arenas scrambled into the corner and attempted a fall-away three-pointer. "One of those mental errors," Arenas said afterward.
Wizards Coach Ed Tapscott said he couldn't see whether former Wizards No. 1 pick Kwame Brown fouled Arenas on the play but added, "It was Gilbert, so a whistle would not have surprised me."
Arenas said he wasn't fouled on the play and credited Brown for doing "a great defensive job. I tried to use the ball to get some space but he was there."
Said Brown, who was able to emerge victorious in his old stomping grounds, "He tried to stick his leg out to draw the foul and they didn't call it. It was a good job by the officials for not calling the foul."
Aside for the final hectic sequence, Arenas played relatively well -- 15 points, 10 assists -- considering how much game action he's missed. His 3-for-12 shooting performance can be attributed to rust. But Arenas got the Wizards going offensively from the jump, as he found Andray Blatche cutting to the lane for a layup. He then calmly dribbled the ball behind his back and threw an alley-oop lob to Dominic McGuire. Later, he drove into the lane, drew the defense and dropped a bounce pass to Blatche for an uncontested dunk. And finally, Arenas hit Butler for another layup.
Butler, back after missing the past six games with a hamstring injury, later returned the favor as he secured his own lost dribble, then spotted Arenas camped out above the three-point line. Arenas buried the open three-pointer, much to the delight of the crowd, to give his team an 11-2 lead with 8:22 left and forced Pistons Coach Michael Curry to call timeout.
The Pistons responded with a 20-10 run over the next six minutes, but Arenas gave his team a 23-22 lead when he hit two free throws before Wizards Coach Ed Tapscott replaced him with Javaris Crittenton.
From there, Arenas had some struggles taking "quality shots." He took some jumpers off one leg, appeared hesitant on others. And one time, I thought he was going to leave a crater in JaVale McGee's chest with a Brett Favre-like pass that ricocheted of McGee for a turnover in the third quarter.
But his teammates were clearly fired up to have him back, especially as he helped them come back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit. "The feeling was so good just to have the fans that supported us all season, just to see this place packed, to see Mr. Pollin in the house, to see everybody. It's just starting to feel good again. It really is," Butler said after scoring 11 points and 10 rebounds in his first game back. "It's been a stressful year, so to speak, but it felt real good."
Butler originally planned on coming back on Sunday against Indiana, but said he couldn't miss the return. "This was a special moment, I really wanted to be a part of this and give the fans a glimpse of what next year's possibly gonna look like," Butler said. "We feel whole again. Now we just got to put together a string of wins and give everybody a glimpse of what the future's gonna look like in Washington."
And that future revolves around Arenas. To "get Gilbert back shows some good fortune is coming around," Antawn Jamison said after scoring a team-high 21 points.
By Michael Lee |
March 28, 2009; 11:23 PM ET
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