By Gene Wang
Sunday, November 1, 2009
The Washington Wizards' Halloween giveaway on Saturday night was Gilbert Arenas masks. There were thousands of them, and before the game, fans of all ages covered their faces with the likeness of the Wizards' most dynamic player. That included a toddler in a Supergirl costume and grown men in zombie outfits.
By tip-off, the vision-obscuring masks were off for most of the announced 20,173 at Verizon Center. Good thing, because Arenas put on a show that wasn't to be missed.
Showing no ill effects from three knee surgeries over the past two years, Arenas scored a game-high 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 3 of 4 three-pointers. He added seven assists over just 29 minutes of a 123-104 victory over the New Jersey Nets in Washington's home opener.
"He took what they gave him, and he got very aggressive at times," first-year Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said of Arenas. "He had seven assists, but he probably had I bet three or four [more].
"Guys got fouled on his deliveries. He shared the ball really well."
The Wizards' faithful weren't filling the seats, though, necessarily to watch Arenas distribute. They came to see one of the best scorers in the league make baskets in bunches, and it didn't take long for Arenas to delight the home crowd.
Although he began with a turnover in the game's first minute, Arenas settled down soon after and made a driving layup with 9 minutes 46 seconds to play in the opening period to give Washington a 7-6 lead. Then 40 seconds later, Arenas made a three-pointer, and it was clear something special was in store.
The most raucous applause of the game came at the conclusion of the first quarter, when Arenas swished a jumper from just inside 40 feet with 0.2 of a second to play.
That familiar sequence -- Arenas has made a habit of converting shots in the closing seconds -- put the Wizards ahead 28-24.
"It was another one of those games where [Arenas] kind of controlled things," Saunders said.
After a scoring lull early in the second quarter, Arenas had nine straight points leading into halftime, beginning with a three-pointer at 4:18 and ending with the second of two free throws for a 58-45 lead.
His big scoring night aside, just as encouraging for the franchise was the stability of Arenas's left knee in the second game of a back-to-back. The Wizards lost in Atlanta, 100-89, on Friday night, with Arenas scoring 23 points but missing 13 of 22 shots.
"We came back with energy tonight," said a subdued Arenas, who had 20 points by intermission on Saturday night. "We're proud of ourselves."