The Return of Gilbert Arenas
When you’re the Washington Wizards, there really isn’t a whole lot to cheer about when your record is 17-56, and you’ve been out of the playoff hunt since before Christmas. Sure, there have been 17 victories, but on average, most of the victories the Wizards have earned have been of the moral variety.
The highlight of their season was when President Obama spontaneously dropped in on Wizards/Bulls matchup, and they rose to the occasion and won the game 113-90. After that game, most Wizards fans and followers really had nothing to look forward to except monitoring their possible draft lottery position, and scout the top college players.
And then Agent Zero re-inserted himself into the picture.
Earlier in the week, Gilbert Arenas announced the blueprint by which he could step back onto the court for the first time since last year’s playoffs. He had to endure a full week of full contact practices; he had to obtain clearance from the team doctors; and Coach Ed Tapscott had to be convinced that he was ready to play.
If all of these things happened, then Gilbert Arenas would play on Saturday.
Saturday is here, and I thought what better way to commemorate the return of the Wizards’ franchise player than to keep a running diary of this– the biggest game of the Washington Wizards season.
5:15pm: As I observe the Detroit Pistons reserves stretch and doing pre-game drills, I just happen to look up at the scoreboard to see what the Wizards starting lineup will be. The name Gilbert Arenas is nowhere to be found. Could it be that Gilbert and the Wizards brass have duped everyone? Did Arenas get cold feet and back out of his promise to play? Did he follow the blueprint he laid out for coming back? I did notice that former Washington Wizard Kwame Brown was in the starting lineup for the Pistons. If I had a dollar for every time he was booed this evening, I’d have more money than an AIG executive.
5:20pm: As I sit in front of the Pistons locker room waiting for head coach Michael Curry to emerge, I learn that Wizards guard Mike James is out for the season with a fractured finger. Right away, I’m wondering how this will affect Arenas’ minutes, if at all. I also find myself wondering if Mike James will be in a Wizards uniform at all next year given that Arenas is back and Crittenton has established himself as a legitimate back-up point guard.
5:40pm: During his pre-game press conference, Coach Curry mentions that the defensive strategy against Arenas is to attack him with different looks before he can return the favor. When asked how the Pistons would force Arenas to play defense, Curry chuckled and said, “That’s not really his [Arenas] thing.” The implication here is that Arenas does not play defense. Curry then quickly quipped that he had his own injuries to be concerned about. Rasheed Wallace was still out with a left calf strain. Allen Iverson’s bad back was improving, but not enough for him to play this evening, although Curry did expect Iverson to play sometime this week. Richard Hamilton, despite a sore left groin, was scheduled to be in the starting lineup.
5:57pm: Right before I go into the Wizards press room to hear Coach Ed Tapscott’s press conference, I notice that Caron Butler, who had missed the past several games with a sore hamstring, was shooting, running and cutting. Could it be that he was inspired enough by Arenas’ presence, that he, too, would attempt a comeback?
5:59pm: As I walk towards the press room, Mr. Gilbert Arenas himself emerges from the weight room and heads towards his locker. He had giant headphones on, and he ignored the scores of media standing around. I do believe he had his game face on, which, although it seemed to mean he was indeed starting, it wasn’t for sure until…
6:05pm: During his pre-game press conference, Coach Ed Tapscott confirms that both Arenas and Butler will indeed be in the starting lineup. The complete lineup will be: Arenas at the point guard slot, Dominic McGuire at the shooting guard, Caron Butler at the small forward spot, Antawn Jamison at the power forward, and Andray Blatche at center.
6:15pm: After the press conference, I walk towards my seat in media row and look out on the court. I notice three Detroit Pistons players shooting around: Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace and Kwame Brown. All three have ties to Washington DC. Allen Iverson played college ball in D.C. at Georgetown University from 1994-96. Wallace was drafted by the then Washington Bullets in 1995, and Brown was Michael Jordan’s number one draft pick back in 2001. The combination of several Pistons having D.C. ties, and Arenas returning pretty much made it impossible to get a spare ticket for this game.
7:08pm: Arenas is officially introduced to a rousing ovation, and he calmly raises one finger in the air acknowledging the fans. He is not however the last player introduced. That distinction belongs to team co-captain Caron Butler. In his post-game press conference, Arenas mentioned that it was “weird,” but not that big of a deal. “It’s not like the last player introduced wins a car,” Arenas joked.
7:01pm: Right before tip, Arenas runs down, grabs the rim, and slightly pulls himself up.
7:13 – 7:15pm: In a span of just two minutes, Arenas dishes out four assists including a spectacular alley-oop to McGuire. He’s not even attempting to look for his shot, and he is playing like a traditional point guard, as opposed to the shooting/point guard hybrid he has been known for during his Wizards tenure. After the game, Arenas says that a pregame text from former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan inspired his pass first mentality. “He told me to just let the game come to me,” Arenas said.
7:16pm: Arenas scores his first points of the season: a three-pointer from the top of the key.
7:17pm: During a timeout, Rasheed Wallace, who is inactive, comes off the bench to share pleasantries with Arenas. The exchange leaves both of them doubled over in laughter. This is why players need to be miked.
7:20pm: Gil’s first “mistake” of the evening comes by way of a drive and a miss, and the crowd groans.
7:26pm: Jamison gets an easy score in the paint. Just three days ago, Jamison mentioned that he was looking forward to Arenas’ arrival, so that he could finally get some easy shots. If that score is an indicator of how easy it will be, Jamison may want to treat Arenas to dinner once a week.
7:32pm: Arenas turns the ball over, then commits his first foul on the break.
7:34pm: Arenas comes out of the game, and Crittenton relieves him. When he went out, the Wizards had the lead 23-22; two minutes later, they lost it, and after one quarter, the Wizards trail 26-29.
7:41pm: After the initial excitement surrounding Arenas’ return subsided, this game has settled into a typical Wizards game. They trail, they aren’t fluid on offense, and there are turnovers galore.
7:43pm: Even though he’s listed at 6 foot, Will Bynum is no taller than I am (5’9″). On a fast break, he throws down a one hand, tomahawk dunk and brings the crowd to its feet. I come to the realization that no matter what, I will never be able to duplicate what I just saw.
7:45pm: Not to be outdone, Pistons forward Jason Maxiell blocks a Crittenton dunk on one end, and then on the other end, he jams a follow up dunk , and hangs on the rim, Al Harrington style. At this point, the Wizards are down 37-29 and have been outscored 15-6 since Arenas exited the game.
7:48pm: So much for easy shots for Jamison. Instead of an easy shot in the paint with Arenas with the game, he was forced to take a three-pointer. Although he made it, this is not where Jamison’s strength is.
7:53pm: JaVale McGee dunks off of a fastbreak, gets fouled, and the momentum carries him into the crowd. He immediately pounds his chest twice and salutes the entire section. Given the Wizards’ record this year, that enthusiasm might be ill-advised to some, but to me, he gets a pass since there is an obvious electricity in the building.
8:00pm: Nick Young splits a double team, drives down the lane, throws down a dunk with authority, then yells out a word that I cannot write here on this family website. Young has played with a lot more confidence recently, and tonight is no exception. Still, the Wizards are down 55-51, and they’ve seen no parts of the lead since Arenas exited the game.
8:04pm: The Verizon Center staff is running up and down the aisles handing out burritos to fans. It is at this point that I realize that this crowd that came to see Arenas is the largest crowd I have seen this season. Not even President Obama was this much of a draw. Agent Zero for President!
8:15pm: Half time Pistons 60, Wizards 53
8:24pm: Right before halftime ends, Rasheed Wallace comes over to the Wizards bench and talks to the injured Mike James, the assistant coach Randy Ayers, and his fellow North Carolina Tar Heel alum Antawn Jamison. Once again, I can’t type out the transcript because players are not miked. Perhaps David Sten will read this blog, and be swayed to changed the rules.
8:26pm: Second half starts, and Gilbert is back on the floor.
8:27pm: Gilbert scores his seventh point of the game, on a patented pull up jumper.
8:30pm: Gilbert attempts to block a shot from the weakside, and the crowd holds its collective breath to see if he lands without incident, and he does, although he misses on the blocked shot. On the next possession, he drives through the defense, gets to the rim, but his lift isn’t quite there. We’re starting to see that Arenas is still in recovery mode, which is to be expected given the length of his layoff.
8:35pm: Former Wizards guard Rip Hamilton hits another shot and is up to 17 points game. One can only wonder what would have been had Michael Jordan not traded him for Jerry Stackhouse eight years ago. Two minutes later, he hits yet another three, and my pain continues.
8:41pm: The Pistons have their largest lead 80-65, and even Arenas’ presence cannot alter the fact that Hamilton is hot, and the Pistons are playing much better than the Wizards.
8:43pm: Arenas hits his second three and officially is in double figures with 10 points. During the next possession, Arenas hits McGee with a perfect pass, and McGee inexplicably drops the pass, then ducks. We can chalk that up to a lack of familiarity.
8:49pm: The third quarter ends, and the Wizards trail 84-72. After three quarters, Gilbert has 10 points, 7 assists and 2 rebounds, and he has shot 3 for 9 from the field. Antawn Jamison, as he has all season, leads the team with 18 points.
8:54pm: JaVale McGee delights the crowd with yet another breakaway dunk, and then gives us yet another salute. The Wizards are now within six points.
8:56pm: The lineup of Jamison, McGuire, Crittenton, Young and McGee is getting the Wizards right back in the game. Their luck is so favorable, that when Young attempts to throw a lob to McGee, it goes in the hoop. The crowd is as loud as I’ve heard it all season, and the Wizards are right back in the game, trailing 83-86.
8:57pm: Arenas re-enters the game. Two minutes later, he falls on a hard drive to the basket, and the crowd groans again. Arenas pops right back up and prepares for his two shots, which he hits to cut the lead to one point 85-86.
9:00pm: Arenas drives, throws a behind-the-back pass to McGuire, who flies in for the dunk. Arenas’ eighth assist of the night gives the Wizards their first lead since he left in the first quarter, and again this crowd goes wild. Who says a team with a 17-56 record can’t get pumped up?
9:03pm: Young draws a charge on the Pistons’ Rodney Stuckey. Young has primarily been known as an offensive player this year, but during his last two games he has stepped it up a bit. Last game he had big block on the Charlotte Bobcats forward Boris Diaw, and now he’s drawing charges on Stuckey and shadowing and slowing down a previously hot Richard Hamilton.
9:08pm: Arenas is knocked down hard for the first time this evening by Antonio McDyess and he falls awkwardly. Once again, he gets up quickly, goes to the free throw line, and cuts the Pistons lead to one point. 90-89 Pistons.
9:19pm: The Pistons have the ball with 15 seconds left, and instead of fouling them to stop the clock, the Wizards stand around and inexplicably allow another 11 seconds to come off the clock. Finally Arenas fouled Hamilton with five seconds left and he hits both free throws. That 11 second lapse definitely cost the Wizards the game.
9:23pm: Arenas is fouled with 4.5 seconds left with the Wizards down by three. He makes the first shot, misses the second, gets the long rebound, and then appears to fouled by Kwame Brown on a long three, but it isn’t called. Butler gets the rebound and shoots a long shot, but he, too, he is fouled, with no call. The buzzer sounds, and the game ends. After the game, Arenas says Brown did not foul him at all.
Final score: Pistons 98 Wizards 96. Gilbert Arenas finishes with 15 points and 10 assists.
9:55pm: The Gilbert Arenas post game press conference: