Here I am to finally write a post about Saturday night’s 106-103 loss to the Pistons. Seems a bit tedious to do at this point. But I have a story to tell, so might as well get it out.
I like to think of myself as a pretty optimist … well, “guarded optimism” was the term I often used prior to the season. Guess I threw that ‘guarded’ part into the wind when I predicted 55 wins. Really? What was I thinking? … but that’s neither here nor there at this juncture. To put it plainly, early in the fourth quarter, when the game had become a back-and-forth battle, I caught myself thinking that the Wizards would find a way to lose. And they did. From predicting 55 wins to the point of reasonable doubt … boy did that escalate quickly.
Flip Saunders used a slightly different term after the game, saying, “It’s like we’re inventing ways to put ourselves in a hole.” This was his response was to a question about DeShawn Stevenson’s ‘away from the play’ foul with 16 seconds left, giving the Pistons a single free-throw and the ball. Ben Gordon, one of the best FT shooters in the league (sixth best percentage among active players), easily sealed the game’s fate, putting Detroit up four with 14.4 seconds left. But Saunders also cited Brendan Haywood’s ‘moment of confusion’ travel at the 2:35 mark of the fourth as another invention of wizardry … among other items of note; 20 Pistons points off 16 Wizards turnovers sounds like it’d fit.
And “inventing” is probably the more apt term to use. “Finding” something can be left completely to chance if you are not looking. You “find” a penny on heads, or rather in the Wizards’ case, a fly in the ointment. An invention is left to your own creation, a self-inflicted device. Sure, inventions can be accidental, but I guess those would be more like “discoveries.”
The Wizards certainly didn’t mean to commit such game influencing gaffes … or score only one meaningless field goal in the game’s final five minutes. The mental lapses, the game slippage as many coaches like to call it, created an environment conducive to loss-inducing invention. It wasn’t an instance of the Wizards “finding” themselves in a hole, they were handing out shovels to each other for digging.
With 25 assists to 16 turnovers, the Wizards certainly shared to ball more than usual. But something is clearly amiss between Arenas and Caron Butler. Both Michael Lee of the Post and Mike Jones of the Times have commentary on the rift between Butler and Arenas. Make what you will from the decoded, ‘read between the lines’ words that have been coming from the two players. But the on court, it’s apparent. According to 82games.com, seven out of the Wizards’ top ten ‘five man units’ feature Arenas and Butler together on the court. The three lineups which don’t involve the duo rank first, second and third in plus/minus and win-percentage.
Is the honeymoon over? Do Arenas and Butler need to call it a divorce and go their separate ways? It’s seems odd to say they suddenly don’t work on the court together. It also seems odd to blame the their woes on the absence of Antawn Jamison. Sure, call The Gentleman a glue guy … but he’s not expected to play 48 minutes. The same case with Mike Miller. Even when the team is operating on all healthy cylinders, Butler and Arenas will have to work together. The Wizards simply cannot get into a lull when other offensive cultivators go to the bench.
Ok, calm down. These are all talented, intelligent basketball players. Good people. They can pull it together. The season is only nine games young … but at this point, it kinda feels like nine games old.
Unlike Mike Miller’s favorite phrase in the whole wide world, “It is what it is,” the Wizards are what Gilbert Arenas is … Arenas is “IT.”
It’s on him to find a way to get the team rolling. It’s great that there are multiple leaders … mainly Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. But Arenas is the point guard, Mr. Eight Percent. Gil is like the team’s wheel or the sliced bread, speaking in invention terms.
As he struggles to find his way personality-wise (as I previously wrote, he seemed to cast aside Agent Aloof after the Phoenix Suns game and it was even more evident after the Pistons game), Arenas is also struggling to find his way on the court. He goes between talk of trying to force assists, (that being the “true point guard” issue), and trying to assert his offensive will on the game, making the likes of DeShawn Stevenson upset when he takes only three fourth quarter shots (he actually drew a trip to the FT line on a shooting foul, which doesn’t count as a FG attempt … and the last shot he took, a 3-point make with 1.9 seconds left, was inconsequential).
Arenas needs to be the player who creates for others with his offense AND passing. It’s not trying to do one or the other, they should be synonymous efforts. Finding that balance is eluding him, but he knows it’s there. He just needs to reinvent himself. The likelihood that Arenas is capable of doing so is the $111 million question. If he does, the title of leader becomes valid. If he doesn’t, he’s labeled as another ball-hogging chucker.
Hey, but at least for now, the “fun guy” is back. A gloomy Gilbert Arenas is fine and dandy when winning, but that attitude benefits no one when trying to overcome losing.
You can talk all you want about missing Antawn Jamison again, or the absence of Randy Foye, but the Pistons were shorthanded as well. They didn’t have Richard Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince, two of the cogs from their championship teams.
The Wizards, on the other hand, had Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Mike Miller and newcomer Earl Boykins, yet they were only able to get one field goal in the final 5 minutes, 4 seconds of the game — a meaningless Arenas three-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining — and watched Ben Gordon completely take over the game down the stretch. Gordon scored eight of his game-high 29 points after the game was tied at 96.
Where was Arenas down the stretch? Before the game, he claimed that he was back to being Agent Zero and he goes and takes just three shots in the fourth quarter, which drew the ire of teammateDeShawn Stevenson.
The spark from Boykins and Arenas’ big shot carried over into the third quarter. Washington outscored Detroit 33-23 behind nine points from Andray Blatche and eight apiece from Arenas and Butler.
But they suddenly ran out of gas. Up 10 (76-66) with three minutes left, Washington fell asleep, and Detroit came to life. WillBynum single-handedly closed out the third on a 9-2 run that left the Wizards clinging to an 80-78 lead, which isn’t what good teams do, Mike Miller said.
“The third quarter was where we lost it,” said Miller, who had 20 points with three rebounds and three assists. “I think we were up 10 with a minute and a half to go, and a good team would have pushed it to 14 or 16. I think it came down to four. That’s tough. But at the same time, we brought a lot of energy in the second half and played a lot better than we have been playing.”
But during a crucial point towards the end of the game, at the 2:34 mark of the fourth quarter, Miller was removed from the lineup with the Wizards up two points. During the next two minutes of the game while Miller was out, and the lineup of Butler, Blatche, Haywood, Arenas andBoykins were in the game, the absence of Miller was noticeable. On two separate occasions the floor spacing was terrible, and both Boykins and Arenas took contested, rushed shots. The lead disappeared with Miller on the bench, and the Pistons went up by two point. With 48 seconds left, Miller returned, but the Wizards never led again.
But the really frustrating thing about tonight’s game is that the Wizards actually did a lot of really, really good things. The offense awoke against a pretty good defensive team (at least this season), particularly in the third quarter, when the Wizards dropped 25 points in about six minutes. Mike Miller had a truly outstanding game, and EarlBoykins provided an unexpected spark, to say the least. And yet, even with all of that happening, the Wizards lost to a Pistons team playing on the road while missing two big parts themselves.
Miller looked absolutely great, however, his still injured left shoulder fell victim to collision once or twice during the game, after which Miller grimaced. A pre-game statement suggested his shoulder was only 30% healed going in, but his shot was definitely there last night, despite any pain he played through.