- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

In the final seconds of the last two games, Gilbert Arenas has come across antithetical defensive philosophies.

Jerry Sloan elected to defend Arenas straight-up, while Isiah Thomas sent two defenders at Arenas and made him surrender the ball.

Arenas hit a 25-footer with a hand in his face to beat the Jazz, while DeShawn Stevenson passed the ball to a cutting Caron Butler for a dunk to beat the Knicks.

Sloan made the correct decision in sticking to basketball being a game of percentages.

Just as a coach does not send his worst shooter to the free throw line to take a technical foul shot, no coach wants to willingly surrender an open shot near the end of a game, especially if a team has two additional marksmen as options, such as Butler and Antawn Jamison.

Arenas may have been in a rhythm against the Jazz, but a hand-in-the-face 25-footer is hardly a high-percentage shot.

It is the kind of shot that Eddie Jordan would object to unless the clock is running out.

At best, given the way Arenas was shooting that afternoon, it was a 50-50 proposition.

And that was the best alternative before Sloan.

Matt Harpring threatened to leave Butler and aid Deron Williams in defending Arenas. But that undoubtedly would have led to a pass to Butler and a wide-open shot.

Butler may not have been at his best against the Jazz shooting 7-for-16, but how reassuring is it to grant an open shot to a player who is having an All-Star season?

Thomas took the opposite approach, which resulted in Arenas passing the ball to Jamison, who then found Stevenson.

Stevenson thought about taking the shot — and he is shooting a career-high 49.8 percent this season — before dribbling through an opening in the broken-down defense of the Knicks and getting the ball to Butler.

If Thomas had embraced Sloan’s tactic, he might have been rewarded with a different outcome.

The decision of Thomas to run two defenders at Arenas at the 25-foot mark throughout the game had proven effective.

Arenas, unable to get into the flow of the game on offense, endured a 4-for-14 shooting performance.

Yet Arenas would have been inclined to take the last shot if the Knicks had not run a second defender at him. That is his role.

And how might he have gone about it?

It is doubtful he would have settled on a 3-point attempt, considering he was 0-for-5 from there. More likely, he would have looked for a seam in the defense and either tried a mid-range pull-up jumper or a drive to the basket.

In either case, the likelihood of Arenas being successful was considerably lower than a Stevenson jumper or Butler’s dunk.

Thomas miscalculated the percentages at the end of the game, as coaches sometimes do.

A coach’s gut instinct sometimes enters the decision-making process late in a game, and Thomas already was savoring his defensive strategy on Arenas.

Here were the Wizards trying to win a rare game by scoring fewer than 100 points.

Here, though, is where Thomas should have been thinking to himself: “I know all about his game-winners and last-second shots at the end of quarters and halves. But that is when he is going good. Let me see him do it when he is struggling, when he knows his team should have a double-digit lead instead of being down by a point.”

That would have been a whole different psychology for Arenas.

Arenas might have had the last say in his psychological battle with Thomas.

He would not have been the first player to purge 47-plus minutes of shooting futility with a game-winning shot.

But the advantages were with Thomas, as was the momentum, if he had made the higher-percentage call.

Instead, Thomas had his team make the player who was struggling the most give up the ball, and he lost on a dunk shot.

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