Arenas scores 31, leads Wizards over 76ers, 105-98

Gilbert Arenas leads Washington with 31 points as the Wizards defeat the 76ers, 105-98.
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A lazy pass here, a bad missed jumper there and Coach Flip Saunders grew more impatient and flustered with each wasted possession by the Washington Wizards. Finally, when Brendan Haywood moved to set a screen for Randy Foye and Foye threw the ball off Haywood's chest for another turnover, Saunders made his way down his bench for an immediate change. He signaled for Earl Boykins, Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Fabricio Oberto and Dominic McGuire to replace his starting five just four minutes in the third period.

The announced crowd of 15,435 at Verizon Center responded to the move by cheering boisterously, but as Antawn Jamison walked off the court, he angrily kicked the sideline ad banner near the Wizards' bench. Saunders's move didn't yield immediate results, as the group he put on the floor actually helped the Philadelphia 76ers extend their lead from four points to seven at the end of the quarter.

But the message came through clearly for Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, who combined to score 22 fourth-quarter points and lead the Wizards to 105-98 win over the 76ers and former coach Eddie Jordan.

"It's not personal. Everybody is trying to get the same goal -- they are trying to win games," said Butler, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the final period. "If a coach do that, it's discipline, you accept it, take a smack on the wrist and you get prepared to get back out there and show what you're capable of doing. You can't hold no grudges. Can't be disappointed in nobody because it's a mirror for that."

Butler and Arenas outscored the 76ers in the final period, as the Wizards outscored them 35-19. Arenas scored a game-high 31 points with just two assists. But with 4 minutes 24 seconds, Arenas dropped a pass to Butler, who exploded toward the basket and dunked over three 76ers, including Marreese Speights and Elton Brand, to give the Wizards a 96-90 lead.

Butler pumped his first and kicked as Jordan called a timeout. Arenas high-fived Butler then raised his hands above his head and started clapping, urging the fans to do likewise.

"It was needed," Arenas said of the third-quarter benching. "I just felt like we basically gave up on our team. As a starting unit we didn't come out and give 110 percent like that second unit would've. You couldn't complain. We was the people out there, not giving the energy."

Saunders shook up his lineup before the game, putting Foye in the starting lineup in place of DeShawn Stevenson and giving his team its 11th different starting five. Foye scored eight points, but after entering the game in the third period, Boykins stayed on the floor until the game ended, scoring 18. The reserves combined to score 43 points, with Nick Young contributing 13 and Andray Blatche 10 for the Wizards (9-17), who will go on the road to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.

"That's part of being a team," Boykins said. "There are nights when you're flat and it happens in this league. I was just glad that we was able to come in as the second unit and just play with energy and play the game the right way."

The Wizards were back home playing their first game since returning from a disappointing West Coast trip on which they went 1-3. Although the team didn't get many wins, Arenas was encouraged about rediscovering his mojo with a season-best 45-point, 13-assist game in a win against Golden State that was preceded by a 33-performance in a loss against Sacramento.

Arenas was feeling so good about himself out west that he joked about not wanting to come back east with his teammates. But he said he would have to confront his fears about playing at Verizon Center, where the Wizards had lost their past three games and Arenas came up small in the final seconds of close losses. He missed a layup in overtime against Toronto and missed two free throws at the end of losses against Boston and Indiana.

But any uneasiness that Arenas felt about playing in front of his home fans may have been squelched in the first period, when he scored 15 points. He also was able to make two clutch free throws with 1:11 remaining to put the Wizards ahead.

"I just kept the confidence that I had coming from the West Coast, all it takes is a couple of games to get somebody's spirit going and I found it on the West and I'm trying to keep it going," Arenas said.

Young made a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 44-33 lead with 4:27 left in the second period, but the 76ers outscored them 23-8 over the next eight minutes and forced Saunders to make the switch. "I was surprised and shocked," McGuire said.

But Saunders said the starters left him no choice. "We had guys that were mad. I told them, 'You could be mad, but you're not half as mad as I am with the effort that we gave.' To the credit of the guys that got taken out, they were upset at the time, but they came back in and play as hard as they have in the last three or four games. As you coach, you have to do what you think you have to do."

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