By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2008
To the surprise of everyone in the building, including his coach, Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas decided to make his long-awaited return against the Milwaukee Bucks last night.
Arenas, who missed 66 games with a left knee injury, was nearly the game's hero when he made two free throws with 15 seconds remaining to give the Wizards a one-point lead, but Milwaukee guard Ramon Sessions ruined the party by making a 19-foot jump shot over Arenas as time expired, allowing the Bucks to emerge with a 110-109 victory in front of a stunned crowd at Verizon Center.
Arenas, who underwent left knee surgery on Nov. 21, didn't join his teammates for warmups and remained in the locker room until 5 minutes 30 seconds remained in the first quarter. Then he casually jogged out to the Wizards' bench.
He checked into the game at the 5:21 mark to a standing ovation and made his first four shots, including two three-pointers. He finished with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting with two assists in 19 minutes. The Wizards (38-37), however, lost a chance to clinch a fourth straight playoff appearance.
Arenas did not speak with reporters before the game and he was gone by the time the locker room was opened to the media afterward.
On Tuesday night, Arenas said he wouldn't play and he didn't participate in the team's morning shoot-around but he changed his mind, according a team source, after going through a workout on the practice court about two hours before tip-off.
With the Wizards facing a game that was crucial to their playoff hopes, Arenas didn't even talk to Coach Eddie Jordan about his return.
"I found out," Jordan said. "He didn't really tell me, but that's Gil. I found out. Let's say it wasn't normal, proper channels, but I found out."
The Wizards received bad news after the game. All-star forward Antawn Jamison (18 points, eight rebounds) suffered a sprained right shoulder while trying to save a ball from going out of bounds with less than two seconds left.
Jamison tapped the ball down the court before falling into courtside seats, but Sessions beat Antonio Daniels to the loose ball and called a timeout with 1.1 second remaining to set up Milwaukee's last play.
Meantime, on the same play, guard DeShawn Stevenson suffered a sprained ankle when Bucks guard Michael Redd fell into him. Both Wizards underwent X-rays after the game. Jamison, who was in a sling after the game, will be evaluated today.
Neither Jamison nor Stevenson has missed a game this season. The next game is tomorrow night against Miami at Verizon Center.
The Wizards led by 11 in the third quarter but the Bucks chipped away behind Charlie Villanueva, who scored nine of his game-high 24 points in the fourth. Milwaukee took a 108-107 lead when Andrew Bogut followed a Villanueva miss with a rebound and putback layup with 1:39 to play.
After a timeout, the Wizards inbounded the ball to Arenas, who drove the length of the floor and drew a foul on Sessions before making the go-ahead free throws. On the game's final possession, Milwaukee set up at midcourt where Royal Ivey inbounded the ball to Bogut in the post and Bogut then quickly passed the ball out to Sessions, who made the game-winner.
Arenas, who last played in a win at Minnesota on Nov. 16, wore a protective sleeve over his left leg but didn't appear to favor the leg and periodically displayed some of the burst and playmaking skills that have earned him three all-star appearances.
However, as evidenced by the final play when he was caught sagging off of Sessions and failed to recover in time, Arenas also had his defensive difficulties, and the Wizards were outscored by 15 when he was in the game.
Arenas's return capped a bizarre saga during which he expressed fear about returning after two knee surgeries and vacillated about whether he should return this season or "shut it down" until next season.
The strangest turn occurred on March 25 when Arenas wrote in his blog that he was so distraught over not being cleared to play two days earlier, he briefly contemplated suicide while driving home.
On Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before the Wizards played the Bucks, Arenas said he wouldn't play and wasn't sure whether he would return this season.
Asked why Arenas changed his mind and decided to play yesterday, a team source said: "The guy marches to the beat of his own drummer."