- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

Boston could have seen this coming.

When Gilbert Arenas has an off game, as he did in Cleveland on Wednesday night, he usually comes back strong, which is exactly what he did last night, christening the Washington Wizards’ 2006-07 home schedule with a game-high 44 points to lead the Wizards to a 124-117 victory at Verizon Center.

It was the 19th 40-point game of Arenas’ career, and 11 of them came last season when he emerged as a star.

The last thing the Wizards wanted was a repeat of their opening night performance in Cleveland, where they were pounded on the boards and didn’t get to the free-throw line nearly as often as the Cavaliers. On top of everything else, Arenas had a poor game, finishing with just seven points in the Wizards’ 97-94 loss.

But Arenas — who also had six assists last night — is prone to coming up big after he has, by his lofty standards, bombed. Last season, when he averaged 29.3 points a game and was fourth in the league in scoring, Arenas was held to less than 20 points just 14 times.

But in the games immediately following his sub-par performances, he averaged 33.1 points.

“I think I was just anxious that first game,” Arenas said. “I made some good plays with the ball, but I really wanted to get back out there. And tonight I was back to my old self scoring and distributing the ball and keeping up tempo.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wasn’t surprised.

“You sort of sensed that he would be high level and aggressive but you never know,” he said. “You never know because the defense could really take things away from him if they really wanted to. But he made plays tonight and we needed them dearly.”

Arenas was one of four Wizards players to finish in double figures in scoring. Antawn Jamison had 29 points and eight rebounds. Caron Butler scored 20 points, and reserve Antonio Daniels added 15.

Arenas put the game away when he drilled a jumper with 1:46 left to give the Wizards a 117-109 lead.

The Wizards also shot well, connecting on 52.5 percent of their field goals.

The Wizards clearly outplayed the winless Celtics (0-3), who were led by Wally Szczerbiak’s 33 points. The Wizards forced the Celtics into 23 turnovers while coughing up the ball just 10 times themselves.

“We gave them points off turnovers and obviously that was difference in the game,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They scored 29 points on 23 turnovers and probably 15 of them were on bad passes.”

Paul Pierce had 23 points and 12 rebounds for Boston.

One area of concern the Wizards will take from this game is their rebounding as they were outrebounded by a large margin for the second straight game, this time 43-28.

“What are we going to do on those nights when we don’t score 120 points?” a reserved Jamison said.

The Wizards failed to win both games here against the Celtics last season, mostly because of Pierce, who evened things at Verizon Center when he sank a jumper in overtime in the teams’ second game here to give the Celtics a one-point victory when the teams met last March.

This year’s Celtics are young and turn to Pierce for both points and leadership. Pierce opened with 13 points in the first quarter but was relatively quiet in the second. He had 15 at the half.

One game after Arenas missed his first nine shots and failed to score in the first half, he led all players with 17 points at halftime.

Boston fell behind 35-28 at the end of the first quarter as the Wizards made 12 of 26 shots from the floor.

Washington took its largest lead of the first half, 50-41, on an Arenas driving dunk with 4:15 left in the half. But Boston responded with a 9-0 run to pull even at 50-50 on a pair of Sebastian Telfair free throws with just more than two minutes left in the half.

Szczerbiak tried to keep the Celtics in the game in the third quarter, especially early on when he scored Boston’s first 11 points of the quarter. He turned Washington’s 58-57 lead into a 68-65 advantage for Boston.

Then Arenas went on a hot streak, starting with a 3-pointer with 6:04 left in the third and continuing the rest of the game. Arenas scored 16 points in the quarter, 13 of them in the final six minutes.

As Arenas intensified his efforts, so did the rest of the Wizards as they combined to make 16 of 25 shots.

Their hot shooting camouflaged the fact that they really didn’t play much defense against the Celtics, who made 12 of 17 shots themselves.

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