For Arenas, Business Is A Pleasure

Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James
The Wizards' Gilbert Arenas and the Cavaliers' LeBron James have staged a duel in the fourth quarter throughout their first round series. (The Washington Post/Reuters)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

The classic hip-hop track "So Whatcha Sayin' " blasted over Verizon Center's PA system early in the fourth quarter of Washington's 106-96 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night.

The track is from an EPMD album titled "Unfinished Business." That seems to be Gilbert Arenas's fourth-quarter theme throughout this tense playoff series, which continues with Game 5 tonight in Cleveland.

Arenas is averaging 31.0 points per game during the series with nearly half of those points (14.75) coming in the fourth quarter. He's shooting 54 percent in the final period compared to 36.1 percent for the remainder of the game and he's made 26 of 28 fourth-quarter free throws.

Arenas missed a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds of Game 3 -- he was wide open from three-point range after his man, former Wizard Larry Hughes, fell down -- but bounced back in Game 4. Arenas took over by making 5 of 6 shots and scoring 20 of his team-high 34 points in the fourth quarter.

Seeing Arenas at his best when it counts most is nothing new for Wizards fans. Arenas finished the regular season tied for second with LeBron James in fourth quarter scoring at 7.3 points, behind only Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Yet, Arenas has raised his level of play in the playoffs, a period that sorts out merely good players from great ones.

"It's preparation," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "A guy like Gil comes in and prepares himself. A guy like LeBron prepares himself. And that adds to your confidence level. And then you have that instinct to get it done. A lot of players don't have that. . . . There are guys who can play well for three quarters and they shy away in the fourth. Only special guys can do it in the fourth."

In Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, the Wizards have three players who relish opportunities to take big shots in crucial situations.

Arenas and Jamison opened the fourth quarter of Game 4 by making three-pointers. Butler made one of the biggest shots of the game when he squared up against James, froze him with a pump fake and made a tough baseline jumper, pushing the Washington lead to 10 points with 2 minutes 14 seconds to play.

Arenas and James, who is averaging 10.3 points in the fourth quarter, have an advantage because they begin most possessions with the ball in their hands.

The Cavaliers have caused the Wizards problems by isolating James at the top of the key where he can see double teams coming, and the Wizards have countered by doing the same with Arenas.

Arenas has done most of his damage by attacking the basket the way an NFL running back attacks the line of scrimmage. Of his 59 fourth-quarter points in the series, 26 have come at the free throw line.

One of his biggest plays of Game 4 came with 6:14 remaining. Arenas had already made two three-pointers over Hughes in the quarter so when Hughes pushed out to the wing to take the jump shot away, Arenas blew past Hughes, elevated in the lane and banked in a shot while drawing a foul on Donyell Marshall. Arenas hit the floor with a loud thud but bounced up and completed the three-point play with a free throw, giving the Wizards a 10-point lead.

After the game, Cleveland Coach Mike Brown expressed dismay that Arenas had attempted 17 free throws in the game while James had attempted only seven. However, Brown appeared to ignore the fact that James mostly settled for jump shots Sunday night while Arenas put his head down and drove to the basket.

"I get to the free throw line," Arenas said in response to Brown's comments. "It's not the first time I shot 17. That's what I do. If you want to keep me off the line, tell your team to stop hacking. There's a [unwritten] rule that if he goes in and you hit him really hard, he won't come in here again. Well, not me. If I know you are fouling, I'm coming inside because I know those are free throws baby. I don't shy away from the contact."

These playoffs are already starting to expose players who had spectacular regular seasons but haven't shown up in the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets were eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers Monday night. Pau Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies were swept by the Dallas Mavericks.

The league's reigning MVP, Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash, and his all-star sidekick, Shawn Marion, were on the verge of elimination going into last night's game against the Lakers.

Meanwhile, Arenas has positioned himself to get some of the national attention that has evaded him so far during his basketball playing life. Jamison said Arenas started preparing for these playoffs the moment the Wizards were swept by the Miami Heat last spring. Miami's Dwyane Wade dominated that series and Arenas, was powerless to do anything about it.

Now, Arenas and the Wizards are locked in a series that was supposed to be all about James and the Cavaliers. Instead, Arenas is snatching some of the spotlight by playing his best ball when his team needs it most.

"Gil doesn't want that situation to happen again where people talk about the opponent's best player rather than him," Jamison said. "He doesn't need the extra motivation, but anytime you give Gil fuel to add to that fire, he's going to take it."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company