- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Not long after the Washington Wizards left the court with a rousing 108-104 victory over the Indiana Pacers last night at MCI Center, a security guard who was no doubt caught up in the late-game fireworks could be heard saying, “It was a battle between two snipers and ours won in the end.”

Considering the Pacers got 30 and 29 points, respectively, from Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson, it was hard to determine the Indiana player to whom he was referring. But there was no doubt guard Gilbert Arenas was the Wizards’ star.

Although the game came too late to influence any of the Eastern Conference coaches who yesterday voted for the All-Star Game reserves that will be announced today, the 43-point, nine-rebound and six-assist effort by Arenas before 14,804 was a thing of beauty.

“He’s a special player,” Pacers coach Rich Carlisle gushed. “He gets by you so fast that sometimes even the help needs help getting there.”

Arenas scored 16 of his 43 points, which matched a career high, in the fourth quarter as he took control of a game in which the Wizards — winners of 10 of their last 12 home games — seemed intent on self-destruction.

The Wizards (28-19) were incapable of putting any real distance between themselves and the Pacers mostly because of their poor free throw shooting (22-for-37).

So Arenas, whom Wizards coach Eddie Jordan likes to say has the green light in the fourth quarter, took over. He connected on five of nine field goal attempts in the period — including knocking down a pair of 3-pointers — and he even found time to hand out two crucial assists.

He made four free throws in a row in the final 1:03 to help give the Wizards a 106-102 cushion and seal the win.

“I love the fourth quarter when everyone is paying attention to you,” Arenas said. “MJ, Magic and Bird, those are the guys who struck fear in people in the fourth quarter. When I have the ball I know my opponents don’t want to stick me. They are looking for help all over the place. So why settle? Why not just go down their throats in the fourth.”

Arenas finished the game 15-for-28 from the field. It marked the eighth time in the last 12 games he has scored at least 30 points, and the third time he has scored at least 40. And it comes on the heels of a victory against Milwaukee in which he finished with 31 points, nine assists, six rebounds and six steals.

“I guess everybody in the room would feel the same way,” Jordan said when asked about Arenas’ ability to take over a game. “You can just put the ball in his hands and he can go one-on-one from the top. He can go on the break and get to the rim; he can pull up. If you were up here wouldn’t you be this confident?”

Still the Wizards’ victory wasn’t secure until late in the game.

Shortly after O’Neal scored on a jump hook to pull the Pacers (22-25) within 106-104, Arenas missed at the other to give Indiana one more opportunity to tie or win the game.

But the Pacers’ play out of a timeout with 8.5 seconds left went awry when reserve guard Fred Jones dribbled the ball off his own leg and had it stolen by Juan Dixon (11 points).

Fouled with 3.6 seconds remaining, Dixon put the game out of reach with a pair of free throws.

Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who also could be named to his first All-Star Game today as a reserve, added 24 points on 11-for-21 shooting.

“Gilbert was Gilbert again,” Jamison said. “He makes it easier on everyone. An All-Star has to make his teammates better and he’s doing just that. He’s really matured and he’s leading the team. He’s a great guy to have on your team. He’s elevating his play and everyone’s around him.”

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