“Gilbert has ice water through his veins and he knocked them down. It was a very strange ending.”
Former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said those words over 1,000 days ago. Down 106-104 on March 4, 2007, Gilbert Arenas drove to the rim against Mikael Pietrus of Golden State and drew a shooting foul that some called questionable. Warriors Don Nelson stormed off the bench, the referees assessed him a controversial technical. When the ensuing confusion was finally quelled, the refs put 0.1 seconds on the clock and Arenas calmly sunk three straight free-throws to win the game 107-106 on his home court.
But those were different times. That was a different Gilbert Arenas. And Saturday night’s game ended in a very different manner for the Washington Wizards. The basketball gods have evidently swung their pendulum of favor in the opposite direction.
I’ve seen crazier NBA endings. Reggie Miller’s eight points in nine seconds (ironically the name of the TrueHoop Network’s Pacers blog) comes to mind.
I’ve seen more shocking happenings solely involving the Wizards. Just look up a game against the Toronto Raptors on March 30, 2007 (26 days after the infamous Don Nelson tech).
I’ve also been in more sad, heartbroken locker rooms. Try being in one after a 5-seed expected to make noise in the NCAA Tournament goes down in the waning seconds to a 12-seed.
Still, words can’t really describe the nature in which the Wizards lost to the Pacers on Saturday night. And while the circumstances still leave me in disbelief, once again as the game winded down, I had that sinking feeling, not so much that the Wizards were going to find a way to lose, but that a way to lose would find them.
With six seconds left and his team up 113-112, Arenas went to the free-throw line with a chance to ensure overtime in the least. A chance for redemption from two crucially missed free-throws against the Celtics on Thursday. It wasn’t meant to be, he missed both.
As baffling as Arenas’ charity stripe futility was, the Wizards’ last play with 0:00.1 left on the clock was almost as much so.
Why else would you summon the raw, 7’1″, 7’6″ wing-spanned kid with spring-board hops off the bench for the first time all night? You certainly don’t want him trying to catch and shoot a long jumper in that amount of time.
“The last play, JaVale [McGee] was supposed to go for a lob … double lob, tried to see if they bit on one. And coming out of the timeout, we told him, ‘You have to be at the rim’,” said Flip Saunders after entering the press room and letting out a sigh that seemed like he’d been holding in for years.
Instead, McGee hung around at the top of three-point line, looking like a deer frozen in headlights. As the referee got closer to the completion of a 5-second count, the confusion was contagious to Caron Butler, the out-of-bounds passer. Instead of throwing the ball toward the rim, which might have been the smarter move with McGee breaking the play, Caron passed it to the only man really open, which was JaVale, who tried to catch and shoot a 20-plus footer in one motion.
The ball came close, but you can’t even call the effort valiant. The shot never would have counted. It wasn’t a brain fart, it was full-on cerebral dysentery.
But the fact is that down one with 0.1 seconds left is no situation for a team to put itself in, nor is letting the game come down to free-throws. I told a colleague at halftime that it didn’t matter if the Wizards ended up winning. Allowing a Danny Granger-less Indiana Pacers team to put up 66 points in the first half is absolutely unacceptable.
It’s not the mental block of missing two free-throws and who cares if Arenas notched a triple-double or if the Big Three finally packed a combined scoring punch of 76 points. The problem is systematic. Something must change.
The disbelief of what’s gone down this season dwarfs the unfathomable nature of last year’s 19 wins to the point where I’m vehemently convinced that it just won’t work out, while still maintaining a naively sad glimmer of hope that it just might.
It’s a long season, but that long season is already a fourth over. Facing the big picture fact that the current Wizards are really, really bad just might be tougher than this one crazy loss.