Leftovers Part I: Role Players
It was easy to get caught up in the effect that Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood had on the Washington Wizards as both players started alongside Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison for the first time this season. But there were some contributions, from players who were placed back in their rightful roles, that cannot be ignored in the Wizards 109-101 win over Cleveland on Thursday.
The Wizards probably aren't feeling so good about themselves this morning if not for Darius Songaila. Songaila had 17 points and six rebounds, but he saved his team in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers erased a 14-point deficit and closed to within 89-88 when LeBron James made a layup with 6:51 remaining.
The Wizards were in an especially shaky situation because Antawn Jamison was forced to leave the game about 50 seconds earlier after jamming his right ankle and foot, possibly putting more pressure on Butler to carry the team. Songaila was looking to feed Butler underneath, but his pass was deflected by Wally Szczerbiak. He grabbed the ball and went right back up, getting fouled on a three-foot jumper and flexing before making the free throw. Then, Songaila drove right around Szczerbiak for a layup that put the Wizards ahead 94-88.
Songaila isn't one for emotion, but he really let loose on Thursday, hooting and hollering like he was playing for the Lithuanian national team, not in some relatively meaningless game for a lottery team. "You could feel the energy building up in the arena," Songaila said. "We were all fired up. I think that definitely showed on the court."
Songaila played the final 1:47 in place of Jamison, who was favoring his foot while he was on the floor, forcing Wizards interim Coach Ed Tapscott to take him out. Jamison left the locker room with a noticeable limp, but Tapscott didn't think the injury was anything serious.
Before the game, Nick Young confidently bragged to Andray Blatche that he had been given the green light off the bench, comparing himself to streaky but effective sixth men Jason Terry and Ben Gordon. After having an up-and-down season, Young had his best month of the season in March, when he averaged 12.4 points. He had a string of 10 consecutive games with at least 10 points snapped on Sunday in Indiana, but he has started another after scoring 16 points in Memphis on Wednesday and another 10 against the Cavaliers.
One play against Cleveland stood out. With less than 90 seconds remaining, the Wizards were clinging to a four-point lead and Young had the ball at the top of the key. Arenas and Butler were on the floor with him, but Young was the one taking the huge shot. He drove right to the basket for a pretty finger roll that pushed the Wizards lead up to 104-98.
"Gil told me to go. That's how much confidence he has in me," Young said. "Being the youngest guy out there, with Gil, Caron. I was kind of nervous. I ain't never been in that situation before. Me having the ball, I didn't want to mess up to hear these guys' mouths. When he told me to take it, I tried my hardest to get to that hole."
After a bizarre back-to-back in which they lost to Memphis and beat Cleveland, the Wizards have the day off.
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