Matinee Idol Takes Center Stage

gilbert arenas - washington wizards
"I'm going for the gusto," said Gilbert Arenas. "I'm going for that winner. The funny part is I was sitting right here before the game and I told DeShawn (Stevenson): 'I feel like 37 and the game-winner tonight.'" (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

He complained of an afternoon start in Toronto. He complained of shoulder pain so bad that he nearly sat out against San Antonio. Gilbert Arenas has searched for and found excuses -- explanations, rather -- for some of his less than memorable performances this month. On Monday, Arenas wouldn't let his sore right shoulder or a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee derail his supreme confidence, which he likes to call "phenomenal swag."

Sitting in his locker room stall before the Washington Wizards faced the Utah Jazz, Arenas turned to teammate DeShawn Stevenson and made a bold prediction. "There is going to be 37 [points] and a game-winning three," Arenas said he told Stevenson.

After the Wizards' 114-111 win, Arenas could only laugh about his half-right premonition. "The game-winner was correct," Arenas said, after he matched Michael Jordan's Verizon Center record with 51 points and walked off the floor to chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" after making the game-winning three-pointer over Utah's Deron Williams from the top of the key as time expired.

Arenas finished off the Milwaukee Bucks in similar fashion just 13 days ago, spinning and defiantly turning before that buzzer-beater splashed through the nets. Arenas again didn't bother to see the shot fall yesterday, wearing a menacing scowl on his face as he strutted toward center court. This time around, however, Arenas lifted his arms toward the ceiling while his teammates gleefully stormed to the locker room and Coach Eddie Jordan, saddled by his son, Jackson, proudly screamed toward a fan in the crowd, pointing toward his heart.

"Once I felt it coming out of my hand, I knew it was going in. I could see it had great arc, lined up with the rim -- free make," Arenas said. "I knew it was game over. If I miss it, we go to overtime and nobody talks about it. If I make it, it's a glorious shot."

Arenas is making the shot habitual. He has hit 11 shots to end games or quarters this season but the Jazz's old-school coach, Jerry Sloan, elected to leave Williams to defend Arenas alone. Williams said only one thought ran across his mind when Arenas caught the inbounds pass and palmed the ball. "Man up," Williams said, "Nothing [else] I can really do. I looked up with four seconds and he was still messing with the ball, so I tried to get up on him a little more. He made a little move, a little step, I backed up a bit and that's when he raised up. I tried to get a hand up.

"Everybody in the arena knew he was going to shoot it. We knew he was going to shoot it. He just made a great shot."

Arenas, the league's second-leading scorer at 30.2 points per game, scored fewer than 20 points for just the fifth time this season on Saturday in San Antonio, which he blamed on a shoulder injury that occurred on Dec. 30 in Milwaukee. He said he woke up yesterday with minimal pain and bounced back in a major way, scoring 31 second-half points as the Wizards erased a 12-point deficit. Arenas finished 14 of 29 from the field, including a season-high seven three-pointers, and made 16 of 17 free throws as the Wizards (21-16) handed the Jazz (24-14) its fourth straight loss and moved within half-game of idle Orlando for first place in the Southeast Division.

"Sensational -- I don't know what more you can say," Sloan said. "We just didn't seem to have much of an answer for him."

Wizards forward Caron Butler pitched in with 21 points and center Brendan Haywood had his fifth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Mehmet Okur had a career-high 38 points and gave the Jazz a 109-106 lead with 1 minute 22 seconds left, but Arenas responded with three free throws to tie the score.

"It was one of those days, I wanted the challenge," Arenas said. "Okur was coming down hitting long deep shots and I had a hot hand, so I was going to match him shot for shot. If he went for a two, I was going in for a two. If he hit a three, I was going to hit a three. We were going to go back and forth all night until the game was over."

Jarvis Hayes gave the Wizards a two-point lead when he followed an Arenas miss with a putback, and Jazz forward Carlos Boozer (27 points, 13 rebounds) followed a Derek Fisher air ball to tie the game at 111 with 11 seconds left. In the huddle, Arenas screamed to his teammates, "I'm not down with overtime." Then, Arenas went out and proved it. "He's going to miss one somewhere down the line," Jordan said. "Right now, it's good for us."

In the franchise's first 3,751 games, there were only seven 50-point efforts. Arenas has added three more to the total in the past 15 games (he scored a career-high 60 points against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 17 and 54 points in Phoenix on Dec. 22). He joined Kobe Bryant as the only player since Michael Jordan in 1988-89 to score at least 50 points three times in a 15-game span, and he is the first Wizard to record three 50-point games in one season. Bernard King was the only other player in Bullets-Wizards history with at least two 50-point games in a season. "I'm going to break all the records that are here," Arenas said with a laugh.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company