Gilbert Arenas makes the pass, then Richard Hamilton makes the Wizards pay
Gilbert Arenas faced a tough choice with the game tied and time running out at the end of regulation: Should he force a shot over Richard Hamilton and Charlie Villanueva? Or should he kick it out to Andray Blatche for a wide-open three-pointer?
Arenas chose the latter, and if Blatche makes the shot, Arenas is hailed as an unselfish hero who instilled confidence in his younger teammate by setting him up with the game-winning bucket. But the decision will undoubtedly be questioned after Blatche missed badly, and Hamilton went on to stroke jumper after jumper in overtime to lead the Detroit Pistons to a 115-110 win at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.
"It's one of those things where I have to make the right decision and I thought the right decision was to make the pass to Dray," Arenas said.
Arenas was correct -- up until he said "to Dray."
No matter the outcome, Arenas made the right basketball play in getting the defense to collapse and kicking the ball out to an open teammate. It just wasn't the right teammate, even though Blatche entered the game 4 of 8 from beyond the arc.
After the game, Arenas explained, "Dray's been hitting that shot all day."
Actually, Blatche hadn't been hitting that shot. Of Blatche's nine made field goals on Sunday, only two were from beyond 20 feet and he missed an earlier three-point attempt in the second period. Blatche didn't get going offensively until he started attacking the basket and Arenas found him inside for layups.
When the final play of regulation unfolded, my first question was, "Why was Blatche so far out?"
Blatche explained, "It was a clear out for Gilbert. I was trying to clear out and my guy helped."
Granted, Blatche wanted to give ample space for Arenas to create, but he gave Arenas way too much room. Villanueva was supposed to guard Blatche but didn't really have to respect him from beyond the three-point line. If Blatche was about three or five feet closer, Arenas still would've had space to make a move or take a shot -- and Villanueva would've had to make the choice. With Blatche so far away, Villanueva simply focused on Arenas and forced him to pass without making an honest effort on Blatche.
If Nick Young or Kirk Hinrich were on that side, the Pistons surely would've played it differently. But in that situation, they settled on letting Blatche beat them from long distance and he didn't. If a 6-foot-11 power forward not named Dirk Nowitzki hits a wide-open three-pointer at the buzzer after not hitting one all night, I'm pretty sure most teams would live with it.
Arenas said after the game that if he had missed the game winner and hadn't passed it Blatche, he would've been upset for not finding him. I can understand why he didn't want to finish at the rim. But on Arenas's previous drive to the basket, with the Wizards leading 102-100, Villanueva swatted his layup attempt. Looking back, though, it's surprising that Arenas didn't just try a pull-up jumper over Hamilton from his favorite spot on the court -- the top of the key.
When the Wizards came out of the timeout with 20.9 seconds left -- following Villanueva's driving hoop that tied the game at 102, Arenas was leaning over and stretching on the sideline, as if he was ready to rescue his team. He has made so many game-winning shots over his career, and he was in such a good rhythm against the Pistons, it seemed like the perfect setup for him to pull up, whirl around before the shot dropped and stomp his way toward the visitor's locker room while a stunned crowd stared in silence.
But he didn't. He made the pass. Then Hamilton made the Wizards pay, as he scored 12 of his game-high 27 points in overtime to make sure that Washington remains the only Eastern Conference team without a road victory this season.
"We should've won this in regulation," Arenas said after handing out a career-high 16 assists.