By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 2009;
OAKLAND, CALIF. -- He was driving into the lane, hitting finger rolls and off-balanced runners off the glass. He was completing crossover dribbles, stepping back and draining three-pointers, and confidently whirling back with his hand raised high. And, he was setting up teammates with open jumpers and layups.
More importantly, Gilbert Arenas was smiling, having fun and cracking jokes with his teammates. Arenas was playing freely and delivered the type of flashback performance for a full game that the Washington Wizards have only seen glimpses of ever since his left knee betrayed him more than two years ago. Feeling unburdened back in his native West Coast, Arenas erupted for season-highs of 45 points and 13 assists as he led the Wizards to a 118-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on Friday.
"I've been the coy fish for a couple of games. I'm just trying to get back in attack mode," Arenas, a native of Los Angeles, said. "Since I came on this West Coast trip, I don't have that pressure of Washington standing on my shoulders. I get to play freely and game by game, since we've been on this trip, I felt good."
After an almost two week period in which the Wizards found nearly every way to lose -- with Arenas missing a layup and free throws and committing a turnover in the closing seconds, Earl Boykins dribbling the ball off his leg, officials rewarding Mike Dunleavy free throws with 0.1 of a second remaining -- the Wizards finally had something work out in their favor. The Warriors were up next on their schedule.
It turned out to be the only break the Wizards needed, as Arenas and Caron Butler took advantage of the defenseless and undersized Warriors to help their team snap a six-game losing streak. After losing in Sacramento on Wednesday, when Kings guard Tyreke Evans stripped him of the ball in the final seconds, Arenas said he was personally responsible for four of the losses and vowed to stop letting down his teammates. He finally delivered.
"It was good for him," Coach Flip Saunders said. "When you have a guy that is involved in 71 points, directly, when he scores 45 and has 13 assists, he has a big impact on the game."
Playing against his former team, Arenas had his highest scoring outing since Dec. 22, 2006, when he scored 54 points in a road win against Phoenix. The Wizards will conclude this road trip on Saturday against the Suns. But they feel more confident following a game in which four players had double-doubles. Butler had his best all-around game of the season, as he scored a season-high 28 points, adding 10 rebounds and a season-high five steals.
"I wasn't second guessing myself at all," said Butler, who has struggled to adjust to this offense. "It's a new role. It's a new situation and everybody is trying to figure out what their role is. I had to find out, how can I be me in the system? I had some good games prior to this, but tonight it was my best outing in this system."
Arenas relentlessly attacked the hoop to get layups or draw contact and hit four three-pointers, but he also seemed to be having fun on the floor for the first time in a long while.
Antawn Jamison's string of three consecutive games with at least 30 points per game came to an end after he suffered a stinger on the left side of his neck in the second period. During a break in action, Arenas asked Jamison where he was hurting then pressed his fingers in the area where Jamison told him. Jamison angrily pushed back Arenas and playfully slapped him across the cheek.
"I told him, 'Put some oil on it,' because he got that old neck right now," Arenas said he told Jamison. "But he said, 'Look at your knee.' The jokes stopped right there."
Not quite. Jamison later airballed a free throw and Arenas joked with him some more. "He was Gilbert," said Jamison, who also started his career in Golden State. "I don't know if it was being back here, but was having fun. When things got serious and they'd make a run, he was calm as possible. This is the most joking I've seen out of him in a while and it's just good he got it out of his system with a performance tonight and taking us to the top. But it was good seeing him be himself."
Jamison finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but is expected to play against Phoenix after hitting the ground and grimacing following a collision with Stephen Curry (27 points) in the second quarter. "I lost the ball and tried to get it and my neck and shoulder got caught. It shot down my arm and eventually just couldn't move anything, couldn't feel anything for a while. They said it was the equivalent of a football stinger," Jamison said. "That's why I play basketball. Can't have too many more of those."
Brendan Haywood also with 15 points and 12 rebounds for Wizards (8-16), who had lost their previous six games by a combined 14 points. Arenas ensured that the misery would stop, for one night at least, against Golden State (7-19), which has lost five games in a row.
Arenas engaged in a nice fourth-quarter duel with Warriors guard Monta Ellis. Ellis scored 10 of his team-high 30 in the fourth period and brought the Warriors within 110-106, but Arenas struck right back with a driving shot that bounced high off the glass. He then found Butler in the corner for a long baseline jumper that secured the win. His final assist of the game matched his highest assist total since March 23, 2007 against Golden State.
"Gilbert Arenas had an unbelievable performance," Warriors Coach Don Nelson said afterward. "His greatness was overwhelming."