- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

Gilbert Arenas felt he had let his teammates down the night before in Milwaukee. So as he stepped to the free throw line last night with 2.3 seconds to play and the Washington Wizards trailing by one point, he did not want to let it happen again.

And he didn’t.

Arenas, fouled by Utah’s Raja Bell, sank both free throws for the final points in a 96-95 Wizards victory at sold-out MCI Center. After the Jazz failed to score on their last possession, Arenas made a trip into the stands to celebrate with the crowd of 20,173.

The All-Star guard’s celebration was in stark contrast to the grim mood he had assumed just 24 hours earlier following a 99-90 setback to the Bucks in which Arenas took a career-high 35 shots, making 12, and then apologized to his teammates for the loss.

Last night, Arenas finished with a team-high 22 points and eight rebounds as the Wizards improved to 36-28. Hence, the eventual shirtless celebration with the fans in the lower bowl.

“Our fans deserve what we’re doing right now; they’re enjoying it,” Arenas said. “It was a close game and they were into it the whole game. So you gotta go up in there and celebrate with them.”

Arenas began the game 0-for-4 from the floor and was scoreless at halftime. But he erupted in the second, scoring all of his points in a game that was not well played but competitive to the end.

“The numbers say we should not have won this game, but you can’t measure heart, you can’t measure desire and you can’t measure guts,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “This is how we won the game.”

The numbers did favor the Jazz, who lost for the ninth straight time and were playing the final game of a five-game road trip. Led by Andrei Kirilenko’s 28 points, six assists, five blocks and three steals, the Jazz (20-46) made 52.4 percent of their field goals compared to the Wizards’ 43.7. And the Jazz had 27 assists to the Wizards 15.

But the Wizards, who won their 24th home game of the season to tie the MCI Center mark for wins in a season, were the better team in a game in which one player (Utah’s Keith McLeod) was ejected and five technical fouls were called.

While the Wizards committed more turnovers (20 to 18), it was Utah committing the more odious ones. In the span of less than two minutes late in the game, Utah turned the ball over four times.

“We didn’t give ourselves a chance,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said of his team’s late-game sloppiness. “It was important for us to hang on to the ball. If not you don’t deserve it.”

Still, it looked as if the Jazz would end their skid when Bell (16 points) sank a 19-footer that gave Utah a 95-94 lead and forced the Wizards to call their last timeout with 17.7 seconds to play.

When play resumed, Arenas, guarded by Bell, dribbled the clock down to less than four seconds to play before making his move.

“Usually you are supposed to go a little bit earlier so if you miss it you can get the rebound,” Arenas said. “I was just trying to get to the rim or get fouled with one or two seconds left and I got fouled.”

Smacked by Bell as he made his way to the basket, Arenas stepped to the line and made both free throws.

Following a timeout, the Jazz got the ball to Howard Eisley, who missed a long desperation heave.

Although the Wizards had just 10 players available, they got the most out of those who played. Larry Hughes scored 21 points and Steve Blake came up big, scoring 15 points as he made five of six 3-pointers.

While the Wizards were without injured Antawn Jamison and Kwame Brown, who went home with the flu, Utah was missing injured Carlos Boozer, its leading scorer (17.8) and rebounder (9.0).

Last night’s game marked the Wizards’ final home game until March30. Beginning Tuesday with the Wizards’ game in Denver, their next five are on the road, where they are just 12-19 and have lost 10 of 12.

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