OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 20 -- They tried to play down its significance, tried to make it seem like it was just another game on the schedule.
But for the Washington Wizards' Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, their return to the place they once called home was a chance to show the locals how much they've grown since they were members of the Golden State Warriors.
Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, left, slides by Warriors guard Speedy Claxton in the first half on Monday and would hit the game-winning layup with under one second left for a 103-101 Wizards' win Monday night.
(Paul Sakuma - AP)
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And, all the talk of the game not mattering went out the window after Arenas gave the Wizards a 103-101 victory when he hit the game-winning bucket with eight-tenths of a second remaining. Arenas then pranced toward the Warriors' logo at center court, where he danced and laughed with his tongue wagging.
"It's the type of finish you dream of," Arenas said after scoring 29 points with seven rebounds and five assists. "Everybody wants to hit the game winner and do the little celebration. It's great that I hit it against you guys."
The Wizards (14-9) improved to 4-3 against Western Conference teams this season. They will conclude their four-game west coast trip tonight in Sacramento. The Wizards also won for the second time in their orange throwback Bullets jerseys, including an overtime win in Los Angeles on Friday.
The Warriors debuted blue retro uniforms from the 1966-67 season, but it wasn't exactly a blast from the past with three of their former players sending them to their fourth straight loss. Hughes scored 25 points and shot 10 of 18 from the floor, nailing two clutch jumpers in the final two minutes.
Jamison recorded his 11th double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds. "With the position we're in and the way that we're playing, we're trying to win as many games as possible, no matter who we're playing," said Wizards reserve forward Michael Ruffin, who had a season-high 12 rebounds, with 11 coming on the offensive glass.
"But I'm sure this was special for them. It was exciting. You saw Gilbert out there."
The Warriors (7-18) dropped to 5-3 against Eastern Conference teams this season, but they were unwilling to just hand the Wizards the victory. Guard Jason Richardson scored nine of his team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter as the Warriors battled back from a 14-point second deficit until they were tied at 101 with 17.1 seconds left.
"We survived by the skin of our teeth," said Coach Eddie Jordan, who left the game in Arenas's hands to decide, even electing to sit Jamison for the final possession.
"You have to roll with the coach," said Jamison, who admitted he had an off night, going 8 of 23 from the floor. "I would have liked to be out there, but coach saw something and I have the confidence in my teammates to get it done. The W is the only thing that matters. These are the signs of a team showing maturity."
Arenas slowly dribbled the seconds off the clock, then exploded toward the hoop, double-clutching in the air to initiate contact and sinking a layup as former teammate Troy Murphy fouled him.
Arenas then howled as Hughes stood behind him, clapping his hands and smiling. "It was my first win out here," Hughes said. "A win we definitely needed, and it felt good."
The Wizards had lost on their previous two trips in Golden State, with the last win coming on March 18, 2002 -- when Arenas, Jamison and Hughes were teammates with the Warriors. The 15,161 fans at the Arena in Oakland saw a much more mature and confident group than the trio that fumbled to a 21-61 record in 2001-02 in Golden State.
Arenas, Jamison and Hughes have formed the highest scoring trio in the league and led the Wizards to second-best record in the Eastern Conference, forcing one tortured Warriors fan to bemoan, "How come everybody plays better when they leave?"
Arenas was elated to get the win but kept it in perspective. "All it means is we get our 14th win and we stay in the race in the Eastern Conference," Arenas said. "But I had fun."
The fun didn't stop with Arenas' game-winner. Before he left the court, Arenas tossed his jersey into the stands, then flipped his bright orange sneakers to fans who once cheered for him as a Warrior. "They treated me better than they did last year," Arenas said. "Last year, there straight boos, and this year, they actually cheered."