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Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards fail to come through in the clutch vs. Boston Celtics

Gilbert Arenas fails to hit two game-tying free throws late as the Wizards waste a second-half rally and drop their third straight, 104-102.
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

Immediately after the Washington Wizards lost to the Boston Celtics, 104-102, on Thursday night, Gilbert Arenas went to the practice court and shot 50 free throws. He wanted to see if there was something wrong with his form or his mechanics, if he's leaning or has a hitch. Something must be wrong, because a place where Arenas once found comfort is betraying him, just as his five missed free throws -- including two with 26.7 seconds remaining -- contributed to the Wizards losing their third game in a row.

Arenas scored a game-high 25 points, but with his team trailing by two points late, Arenas stepped to the foul line for two shots and whirled the ball around his waist three times, as he has done so many times in his career. He stared at the basket, knowing that his team needed both to tie the game.

"I'm going up there, shooting it and letting it fly," Arenas said.

He missed them both and the fans comprising the fifth sellout of the season at Verizon Center let out a collective gasp. "In a minute they going be trying, 'Hack-a-Wizards,' where they are just fouling us," said Arenas, who entered this season shooting better than 80 percent from the foul line over his career, but is just 71.3 percent this season. "Right now, it's the back of the rim, front of the rim. It's just terrible right now."

Arenas added that he missed 10 of his 50 free throws after the game. If Arenas's free throws were the Wizards' only concern, they might be in a better situation, but as Arenas said afterward, "We're a bottom feeder team until we start proving it."

The Wizards (7-13) had battled back from a 15-point first-half deficit and played the Celtics even for nearly 47 minutes, but couldn't find a way to finish in the fourth quarter for the third game in a row. After losing their past two games to struggling teams Toronto and Detroit, the Wizards perhaps had the worst opponent coming to town in Boston, which won its ninth consecutive game and improved to 10-1 on the road.

Rajon Rondo led five Celtics in double-figures with 21 points and 11 assists and set the tone for a physical contest when he undercut Antawn Jamison, causing Jamison to flip in the air and land hard on the court early in the first quarter. Wizards were dropping throughout the game, mostly from picks set by Kendrick Perkins, Boston's bruising center.

But after Jamison (16 points, eight rebounds), made a difficult over-the-head shot to tie the game at 98, the Celtics came right back with Kevin Garnett setting a screen to get Rondo free for a dunk to put his team ahead, 100-98, with 1:09 remaining. Arenas then drove to the basket and drew a foul on Perkins (16 points, 11 rebounds). But he was unable to hit either of the free throws.

Then, with the Wizards trailing by three, Arenas missed a potential game-tying three with less than 10 seconds remaining. Randy Foye recovered the rebound in the corner, but turned around and rushed a long three-pointer that came up short.

"You got to understand when things are not going well, you got to continue to fight. Only way it's going to happen is to work hard and believe we're going to turn things around," Jamison said. "We're in games. We're competing. We're just not finding a way to get it done. Right now, it's getting tough but guys are still positive. Guys realize things are going to turn around."

But that won't happen unless the Wizards find a way to play a full 48 minutes. They trailed 63-48 when Rondo hit a fadeaway jumper over Arenas. Arenas drew a foul on the Wizards' next possession, but as he stepped to the foul line, a group of fans in the upper deck began to chant, "Let's go Celtics!"

Arenas promptly missed both free throws. And, as the Wizards walked toward the locker room, trailing 64-50, their fans turned their jeers away from that block of Celtics fans and directed them toward the home team -- with good reason.

The Wizards didn't grab any rebounds in the second period and it's difficult to get rebounds without getting a stop. The Celtics scored 37 points and made 75 percent of their shots (12 for 16) in the period. "No excuses," Brendan Haywood said after scoring 17 points with eight rebounds. "I had a couple of rebounds that went through my hands. But it's no excuses. Anytime you don't have a rebound for a quarter, that's on everybody who played."

Andray Blatche came off the bench and provided a boost in the fourth period, as he scored nine of his 17 points. He made his second three-pointer of the season to bring the Wizards within 88-86. Then, after Garnett put the Celtics ahead by four points, Blatche made back-to-back layups to tie the score at 94 with 2:23 remaining.

Caron Butler was limited to just 10 points on 3 of 10 shooting.

"We competed for most except that second quarter, but if we compete the way we did in the second half, we'll win our share of games and get things going in the right direction," Coach Flip Saunders said. "We had the situation where we were down two, had our best player at the free throw line, and you expect him to make those, and he didn't. He also got a pretty good look at a three-pointer to tie it later, but didn't. We're doing things to put ourselves in good position, but unfortunately, we haven't come up on the better end of the draw."

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