A Victory With No Explanation

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 22, 2007

Gilbert Arenas discussed Saturday night's 115-110 win over the injury depleted Boston Celtics with a sheepish grin on his face, as if he was still trying to figure out how the Washington Wizards had such a difficult time handling a team that was playing without several key players, including leading scorers Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak.

Caron Butler politely discussed the game's deciding play -- his strip of Boston rookie Allan Ray with 5.9 seconds remaining in overtime led to a game-clinching layup by Arenas -- but his facial expression and body language indicated that he was still mad at himself for missing an easy breakaway dunk that would have helped ice the game at the end of regulation.

Antawn Jamison didn't hide his feelings: He looked as though his beloved North Carolina Tar Heels had just gotten trounced by Duke.

"It should have never gotten down to that point," said Jamison, who made a three-pointer to open scoring in overtime. "We put ourselves in a difficult situation. We need to do a better job of playing the game for 48 minutes, but the guys dug down and found a way to get it done."

The win kept the Wizards (24-16) atop the Eastern Conference standings but how long they remain there will be determined by whether they can continue to pull out games like Saturday's, when they gave a bad Celtics team every opportunity to get out of Verizon Center with a win.

After the game, a relieved Eddie Jordan was kicking himself for going to a smaller lineup in the third quarter. When he pulled center Brendan Haywood off the floor and replaced him with Jarvis Hayes with 5 minutes 53 seconds remaining in the period, the Wizards held a comfortable 15-point lead.

Then the undermanned Celtics started drilling shots, including three three-pointers from Ray and four layups by Al Jefferson. Any momentum the Wizards had created was lost and Jordan's team had to grind out a win through a sloppy fourth quarter and overtime.

"We were not making shots and I gambled a little bit with a smaller lineup when we had a decent lead," Jordan said. "It backfired on us because they came back and tied it up and got it going."

However, there were plenty of other reasons for the close game, from Arenas, Butler and Haywood missing easy dunks down the stretch to lousy defensive rebounding to Boston's own hot shooting.

The Wizards will have to come out with more energy and focus in their next game. The Phoenix Suns, who are riding a 13-game winning streak, visit Verizon Center tomorrow night in a game that could be a high-scoring classic.

The Wizards snapped the Suns' 15-game winning streak with a memorable 144-139 overtime victory in Phoenix on Dec. 22 and tomorrow's matchup will feature the league's two highest-scoring teams and two of the league's leading most valuable player candidates in Arenas and Suns guard Steve Nash.

"It's time to go and get some rest because we know we're to be running and gunning Tuesday night," Butler said before stepping out after Saturday's win. "That's going to be a game everyone will want to see."

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