Arenas Quickly Shakes Off the Rust

By Thomas Boswell
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Even Gilbert Arenas could barely believe how quickly his game -- and the game itself -- returned to him, like the oldest friend, always dependable and loyal.

After three knee surgeries, and two barren seasons in the prime of his career, what permanent damage would be left? And how long would it take for everyone to know whether the Wizards' $111 million man, with five more years on his deal, be a hero once again or, yes, a zero?

The answer: just one night.

Agent Zero, NBA superhero, may not be entirely back. But a thrilling player, looking a great deal like ol' Gilbert, returned to Verizon Center on Saturday night. A bit rusty in his shooting touch, but explosive, healthy and passing brilliantly, Arenas led an inspired Wizards comeback against Detroit that barely fell short when both Arenas and Caron Butler missed shots in the last three seconds of a 98-96 loss.

"I don't know what I was thinking," said Arenas after he had rebounded his own missed free throw in the left corner then, with Kwame Brown all over him, threw up a three-point shot that was blocked with 2.4 seconds left. "I could have called time. Could have taken a two-pointer. Instead, I threw up a three. . . . I have no idea what I did."

Apparently, Arenas's brain had more rust than his left knee, which has had three surgeries in two years. In 29 minutes, including all of crunch time, Arenas had 15 points, 10 assists, 3 rebounds and only 1 turnover.

"A terrific performance. As good as you can expect in his first game," said interim coach Ed Tapscott. "He sure makes the game easier to coach . . . a lot easier.

"He did a great job of letting the game come to him."

Translated, that meant that Arenas looked to attract defenders, distort the Pistons' alignment, then look to pass first and involve his teammates. Why?

"I got a text message from [ex-Wiz coach] Eddie Jordan this morning saying, 'Let the game come to you. Don't try to do too much the first time. Play the game the way it is supposed to be played,' " Arenas said.

And that, perhaps, is the way he will play it in the future, with more emphasis on his role as point guard and leader; time will tell, but by next season Arenas may be a 20-point, but not 28-point scorer, but with more assists and more concern for giving his team cohesiveness. Many stars, Paul Pierce recently in Boston, have made that adjustment in mid-career when injury or changes in team personnel dictated its wisdom.

"I drove and missed some layups. I have to get used to being hit again. Practice is easy. You have to learn in [real] games . . . I would like to have shot a better percentage (3 for 12, with two three-pointers). Rust," Arenas said.

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