After dragging through the first 1 1/2 quarters against the Toronto Raptors, the Washington Wizards rallied to the point where their hopes rested on a last-second overtime layup by Gilbert Arenas. But the franchise point guard missed, and the Raptors escaped with a 109-107 victory Friday night at Verizon Center.
For 31 seconds, it looked as if Arenas would rescue his team in vintage fashion and redeem himself from two early overtime gaffes.
Arenas - who had a season-high 34 points - booted the ball away early in overtime and later collided with teammate Earl Boykins, causing a turnover. But with Washington facing what appeared to be certain defeat, Arenas turned back the clock to his Hibachi days - briefly.
Catching a pass from Boykins on the fast break, Arenas knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the score at 107-107 with 30.9 seconds left. With the fans on their feet and whipped into a frenzy, Arenas pounded his chest and skipped back down the floor for a timeout.
Hedo Turkoglu, who has struggled since joining the Raptors, was the hero for Toronto. Coming out of the timeout, the Raptors put the ball in Turkoglu's hands, and he made a tough turnaround jumper over Caron Butler with 8.1 seconds left for a 109-107 lead.
"Turkish Jordan," Butler said with a grin, referring to Turkoglu's nickname when he came into the league nine seasons ago. "It was a tough shot. I tried to make him take a difficult shot, and that's exactly what happened. ... That's all you can try to do, and have an opportunity down the stretch with your franchise guy driving to the basket and having a great look. That's how the ball rolls sometimes."
The Wizards got what they wanted exiting the final timeout. Arenas had the ball in his hands again - only he couldn't quite deliver. He blew past Toronto's Jarrett Jack but missed a baseline layup, and Andray Blatche's tip-in attempt was off the mark as the horn sounded, leaving Verizon Center silent.
"I was going right to the hole," Arenas said. "Just one of them dumb moves that I tried to do where I thought the defender was going to actually jump. Then he pulled the chair on me. I was going to try to use the contact to push me back to the rim, but he didn't jump and I was off-balance shooting the layup. I just tried to outthink him, but he [outthought] me. I don't think about dunking anymore."
Wizards coach Flip Saunders didn't even care about Arenas' missed shot, fuming that the game shouldn't have come down to that. He had hoped the Wizards - who entered the game having won two straight and four of five - would pounce on the Raptors (who had lost five straight). But that's not what he got.
The Wizards shot 1-for-14 from the field in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the quarter and found themselves in a 19-5 hole.
The Raptors notched nine assists on their 10 first-quarter baskets and led 27-17 heading into the second.
Arenas scored 16 first-half points, but his fellow starters (Butler, Jamison, Haywood and Young) were a combined 2-for-19 in the first half. Butler accounted for both of the baskets.
"Everyone focuses on what happened at the end, but we lost the game in the first quarter," Saunders said. "We can't continue to [start slow]. We're always ready to get over the hump. We come home, and we can't come out against a team like that with that type of energy, a team that's in dire straits and is struggling. We just came out and did not have it."
The Wizards also can't afford to give up 18 3-pointers (a season high for Toronto) and shoot 35-for-95 from the field (10-for-29 on 3-pointers).
Washington - riding 11 second-quarter points from Boykins and 10 from Arenas - pulled within 53-46 at halftime. Using a 10-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, the Wizards took a 77-71 lead with 9:47 left in regulation.
But the Raptors pulled down 10 offensive rebounds in the fourth and rallied to force overtime after exchanging leads with the Wizards eight times.