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Storybook Finish? Not Exactly

Gilbert Arenas held up well in his first game in months, but the game's ending wasn't a happy one.
Gilbert Arenas held up well in his first game in months, but the game's ending wasn't a happy one. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Thursday, April 3, 2008

Gilbert Arenas went down hard with 15 seconds left, the good and the bad knee pounding the hardwood. Grimacing slightly, he got up and stepped to the free throw line in the fourth quarter of a taut game for the first time in more than four months.

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The first free throw was good. The second was all net, and gave his team a one-point lead.

In a blink, the late-game drama Arenas craves so badly returned, just as the Wizards' superstar had come back from a surgically repaired left knee after missing 66 of 74 games this season. His stroke was pure, his instincts sharp and his body held up remarkably well for such a prolonged layoff.

The happy ending, however, needed work.

Within 10 unfathomable seconds, DeShawn Stevenson hobbled off the court with a sprained ankle after a loose-ball pileup. The ensuing jump ball, won by Caron Butler and tipped by Antawn Jamison deep downcourt -- seemingly out of harm's way -- was somehow retrieved by the moribund Milwaukee Bucks with 1.1 seconds left. By Ramon Sessions, a little-known reserve guard.

The Bucks used every tenth of that second to inbound the ball to Andrew Bogut, who found Sessions on the left baseline, the area Arenas vacated to collapse on Bogut.

Yes, the youngster sunk a rainbow over the outstretched arm and disbelieving gaze of a three-time all-star, the comeback kid now in the middle of a crestfallen arena. Yes, this was about as deflating and bizarre a loss as can be imagined, alongside Michael Ruffin's gaffe a year ago against Toronto, in which Ruffin tossed the ball into the air thinking time had expired, only to watch in horror as Morris Peterson pulled it down and hit a game-tying three-pointer of an eventual overtime loss to the Raptors.

And, no, we have no idea how Arenas felt physically or emotionally afterward because neither he nor Antonio Daniels, who knows he should have tracked down that tipped ball and ended the game at the foul line instead of being outworked by Sessions, stuck around to discuss the late-game meltdown.

An agonizing loss does not define the season, but how the Wizards managed to give back a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter -- moments after Arenas had checked in with five minutes left -- has got to damage the psyche.

And of all nights, on the evening of Arenas's theatrical return, which had Verizon Center all abuzz an hour before and after tip-off.

"He's in uniform?" a cameraman asked about 10 minutes before the 7 p.m. start time.

A team official nodded.


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