OAKLAND — Well, he finally did it. After letting the Wizards down four times in the last two weeks by choking in the clutch, Gilbert Arenas tonight against the Golden State Warriors put his team on his back and carried them from start to finish and led them to a 118-109 victory.
Tonight Arenas was able to return to his three-time All-Star form, racking up 45 points and 13 assists. His shot was falling, he was aggressive driving to the hole. He made 15 of 25 attempts from the field. And with the Warriors mounting a late charge in the four quarter, Arenas scored 14 of his team’s 29 points. And then, his biggest play of the courter was an assist to Caron Butler for a 17-foot jumper that gave Washington the cushion it needed to close the game victoriously.
Tonight’s 45 point outing was the most points that Arenas has scored since December of 2006, and the assists were the most he’s since March 2007.
The Wizards knew they were going to get into a run-and-gun game, and tonight it suited them just fine. Flip Saunders rode Arenas for 43 minutes, and Butler for 46 minutes, and both players gave their team just what it needed. Tonight was not only the breakout game Arenas had been seeking, but it was also the breakthrough that Butler had been searching for all season.
Arenas said he felt like he was due for a big game and that he believed he could carry over the fourth quarter from the Sacramento (minus the Tyreke Evans steal) into tonight. He did. Arenas said since the Wizards came on this West Coast trip, he’s gradually feeling the old Gil coming back. And tonight was the full-blown thing.
Comforts of home, I guess. This is the place Arenas spent the first two seasons of his career, and this is his homestate.
“Since I came on this West Coast trip, I don’t have that pressure of Washington standing on my shoulders,” Arenas said. “I get to play freely and game by game. Since we’ve been on this trip, I felt good. The building (Oracle Arena) is great. I play well in this building when I played here and since I’ve been coming back. So I felt good about tonight.
“I’m just trying to get back in attack mode,” Arenas continued. “I’ve been the coy fish for a couple of games. I’m just trying to get back in attack mode. I’m finishing off. I finished the game how I left Sacramento. I finally hit plays tonight. down there in the end, I made a shot and a pass to CB. The rhythm is coming back and I’m feeling good right now.”
So the pressures of D.C. are still weighing on Gil’s mind, huh? You don’t like to hear your franchise player dreading playing in front of the home crowd, but for now this is how he feels.
“I don’t know. When you’re at home, sometimes you got pressure. You got pressure to win. It’s the pressure sometimes. when you get West, you’re away everybody, away from your family, away from your friends, away from most of the media. People off the street saying, ‘Why y’all losing? Get it together’ You get away from that and you go on a trip and it’s you and your team.”
This was the first game back in Golden State that Arenas has played since he turned down the Warriors’ offer when he was a free agent during the summer of 2007. Golden State was the one team other than the Wizards that were willing to give Arenas money despite his knee problems, and for a brief while, Gilbert actually thought about coming back to the Bay area he said tonight.
“I did for just a bit,” Arenas laughed while fielding questions from a mostly Oakland/San Francisco-based group of reporters, who seem to miss him even after seven years away. “I was just happy that somebody else wanted me. It was so, like, they didn’t even think about the knee, so here you go. I was like, well, should I go back to Oakland?”
Arenas then talked to his father about a Golden State return.
“He was like, it’s flattering, but you and Abe Pollin, you guys are like a family. Actually, it was about an hour, until I got the call from Mr. Pollin and then it was from when I finished packing and I got to airport [for his Adidas tour of China] and Mr. Pollin called me. I said, ‘Alright Mr. P. No problem.’”
So maye that was some extra motivation for Arenas to get things together tonight.
So while a homecoming was motivation for Arenas, a vote of confidence from Flip Saunders is what got Caron Butler going.
The coach said that this morning at shoot-around, the Wizards always has each player take 40 set shots from different spots on the floor and then charts them. Butler was taking shots from 15 to 17 feet out, and he was doing quite well.
“I told him he averages 36 out of 40 jump shots from those spots, and I said that’s why I get on him,” Saunders said. “When he has those open 17 footers, shoot them.”
That talk did wonders for Butler.
“He told me I was 90 percent from midrange,” CB said. “So [tonight], I wasn’t second guessing myself at all. [Saunders] was like, if you get this shot inside, I don’t want you looking for nobody. I want you to take the shot. When a coach gives you confidence like that, it’s like, alright, it’s going up. That’s how my relationship was with Coach Jordan, Tapscott as well and all my coaches prior. He gave me an extreme amount of confidence this morning in shoot around and I took it and ran with it.”
Butler also had a strong game on the defensive end, coming up with five steals. The key: “Just reading the passing lanes. With teams like this, you have guards that are very aggressive with the ball and sometimes when you trap them, they are going to try to get rid of it. I was trying to read the next play and jump on their plays. I did a good job. I was fortunate to get my hands on some of the balls.”
Now the Wizards face the Phoenix Suns, who are significantly better than the teams they have faced on their first three stops on this trip. Can they carry over what they had tonight into Phoenix? They WERE playing a very poor defensive team tonight, so that helped make things look a little better, but still. You’d think the Wizards can take some things from tonight’s game and build on it.
We’ll see …
Much of it could depend on the health of Antawn Jamison. Jamison suffered a stinger on left side of his neck while colliding with Stephen Curry while going for a loose ball. It looked pretty serious when Jamison was rolling on the floor in front of the Wizards’ bench. But after he received some treatment on the bench, he came back in to play and then after getting more treatment at halftime, Jamison returned. He didn’t do much in the way of scoring, but he did still post a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Jamison said he’s been told to expect stiffness and soreness in the morning. But he’s still hoping to play tomorrow night.
…. And speaking of Stephen Curry… That kid can ball. He posted a career-high 27 points on 9-for-17 shooting with five 3-pointers. You have to wonder if he had some extra motivation tonight while facing a team that passed on the chance to draft him. Curry said after tonight’s game that he actually expected the Wizards to draft him.
“All the way up to that point [they traded the pick], it was an option,” Curry said. “My agents are based in D.C. and they’ve got a good connection with the team. They didn’t know what they were going to do until that point. They were trying to trade with the Knicks and do all sorts of stuff. That was definitely a spot that was on my radar.”
BUT … Wizards obviously had different plans different. Instead they traded the No. 5 pick for Randy Foye and Mike Miller, who for different reasons have yet to give the Wizards much of a return for that investment. Not either players’ fault, however. Miller has been hurt much of the season, and Foye rarely gets a chance to play.”