Gilbert Arenas sat on the bench following a timeout with his team down by a point and one-tenth of a second left on the clock, locked in a trance and not really hearing anything.
For the second straight game, Arenas had blown it. The guard - heralded because of his late-game heroics for the better part of three seasons - had gone to the line with the chance to rescue his team. All he had to do was make two foul shots to give the Wizards a three-point lead over the Indiana Pacers with six seconds left. But after performing his famous ritual of whipping the ball around his waist three times before bouncing it, Arenas clanked the first, and then the second.
When the second shot bounced off the rim, Indiana’s T.J. Ford grabbed the rebound and raced up the court. Another quirky turn of events ended with Mike Dunleavy calmly knocking down a pair of free throws to give the Pacers a 114-113 advantage and a victory Saturday night at Verizon Center.
The Wizards did have a sliver of a chance after Dunleavy’s free throws. After the timeout, however, coach Flip Saunders had to remind Arenas to take the floor, and center JaVale McGee’s flick shot came too late and missed its mark. Saunders stormed off the court in frustration, and the players trudged off dejectedly with Arenas in a fog, apparently on the verge of tears.
“It’s really frustrating,” he said. “I don’t even know why I’m sitting here talking about some free throws. I never fathomed I’d be missing free throws again. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just mental, because I’m making them in practice.”
Arenas had been through an eerily similar experience only two nights earlier. With his team trailing visiting Boston 101-98 with 26.7 seconds left, he went to the line and missed a pair of foul shots. The Wizards lost 104-102.
After that game, Arenas shot 50 foul shots just to study his motion. On Friday and again Saturday, he shot 200 more. He said he made 95 percent of them. It didn’t matter against the Pacers.
After Ford got into the paint following Arenas’ misses, he lost the ball but it went out of bounds off Brendan Haywood’s leg. Earl Watson sent an inbounds pass to Dunleavy with 0.5 seconds left, and Dunleavy grabbed the ball, came down and went back up. But he didn’t get a shot off, with DeShawn Stevenson checking him in the front and Haywood trying to block him from behind. A foul was called; after reviewing the play, the officials ruled Haywood had fouled Dunleavy despite the Wizards’ vehement pleas to the contrary.
“They scored five with five free throws in the last 22 seconds and don’t even get a field goal attempt. … If they called the foul on Brendan Haywood, the game was over,” Saunders said. “They could have said there was contact earlier, but the call was on Brendan and I don’t even know that there was much contact. It was after. He caught the ball, came down and then tried to shoot it. It’s impossible with five-tenths of a second. If you look at the film, you can’t do it. So that was a bad call, but we’re inventing ways to lose. You can’t do it.”
The Wizards had positioned themselves to win after rebounding from a 66-52 halftime deficit and outscoring the Pacers 38-21 in the third quarter. They got 31 points and seven rebounds from Antawn Jamison, 23 points from Caron Butler and 23 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds from Arenas - his first triple-double since March 19, 2004. But it came down to two foul shots missed by the franchise point guard.
“He’s the man. He’s got to make those plays — bottom line,” Saunders said. “You put the ball in the hands of your superstar. I have confidence in him and would put the ball in his hands again, and he’s going to keep on having it in his hand to make those plays.”
But then the coach said that had the Wizards not had an awful second quarter — when they shot 4-for-20 and turned the ball over eight times — maybe he and his players wouldn’t have been in that situation.
The Wizards head west for a four-game road trip and will play eight of their next nine on the road.
“We’ve got to fire back and become a good team on the road real quick,” Saunders said as he exited.