Thanks to the New York Knicks, the NBA now knows what can happen when double-teams come at Gilbert Arenas at the end of games to prevent him from taking the final shot.
That was the case last night in the final 12.5 seconds of the Washington Wizards’ 99-98 victory over the Knicks at Verizon Center. Instead of Arenas conducting a one-man symphony, the Wizards whipped the ball around until Caron Butler found himself open for a wide open dunk or, as Arenas likes to say, a quality shot.
The Wizards (22-16) captured sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division and improved their home winning streak to nine games.
The long jump shots Arenas has used to win games twice this month were no doubt on the minds of most of the 16,503 at the end of last night’s game. But when the double-team came from Jamal Crawford and Stephon Marbury, Arenas started a chain reaction of smart basketball plays.
Arenas whipped the ball to Antawn Jamison, who in turned threw a pass out on the wing to DeShawn Stevenson, whose man had left him to cover Arenas. Stevenson, who thought Jamison was going to shoot, slashed to the basket and drew Butler’s man, high scorer Quentin Richardson (35 points).
“I was thinking about taking the 3,” said Stevenson, who finished with 10 points and six assists. “But when I went to the basket, Caron’s man committed. So I just threw it to Caron, and he dunked it.”
Butler’s dunk with 2.5 seconds to play clinched the victory for the Wizards, who haven’t lost at home since they fell to Houston on Dec. 9. Crawford heaved a last-second shot from beyond midcourt, but the ball never came close to splitting the net.
Butler led the Wizards with 27 points and a career-high 10 assists on a night when the Knicks (17-23) double-teamed Arenas and held him to just 16 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
The Wizards also got 21 points and six rebounds from Jamison and 13 off the bench from Jarvis Hayes. Center Brendan Haywood finished with 13 rebounds and two of the Wizards’ five blocks.
But in a game that saw four lead changes in the final 31 seconds, most of the numbers were irrelevant.
The Wizards were coming off a game in which Arenas scored 51 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer against the Utah Jazz. And earlier this month, with time also winding down, he sank a 3-pointer that beat the Milwaukee Bucks.
Arenas didn’t have that option last night, but it ended up not mattering.
“Gil is not our only scorer,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He makes reads, and he makes deliveries. You have to make reads and deliver the play, and everybody had a hand in it. DeShawn made a baseline drive, he saw a big close-out on him and he made a pass to Caron for a nice finish.”
Arenas told the Wizards he knew the double-team would come on the final possession and that if it did, he would try to pass the ball despite being the primary option.
“We knew where the double was coming from. I told Antawn [to] get open. I thought DeShawn was going to shoot it, but he drove in and found Caron open,” Arenas said. “You are coming off Antawn or Caron in that situation. Both of those guys are scoring 20 points a game.”
The Knicks’ game plan centered on making sure Arenas did not drive the dagger into their hearts.
“We got it out of his hands to make them make a play out of a scramble situation, and they made a great play out of the situation,” New York coach Isiah Thomas said. “They did the right thing at the end of the game. The guys gave it a good effort, but we didn’t come up with the ball.”