By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 12:02 AM
With their franchise player relegated to the bench because of a sore ankle, the Washington Wizards got continued intrepid play from Gilbert Arenas, a luminary of the past who on Tuesday evoked at least some of his stowed alter ego as the Hibachi, in a 109-94 victory over Toronto at Verizon Center.
Arenas finished with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, and fellow guard Kirk Hinrich added 13 points and a game-high 12 assists while rookie sensation John Wall watched the Wizards' most convincing win of the season from the bench. After twisting the ankle in Saturday's loss at Chicago, Wall missed his first game since Washington selected him No. 1 overall and immediately made him the featured attraction, both on and off the court.
On this night, however, the announced 11,513 witnessed the progression of Arenas, who started his first game this season in relief of Wall after coming off the bench the previous five as he mended from a series of ailments, most notably a tender ankle. In handling point guard duties along with Hinrich, Arenas flashed the daring in the lane and deft outside touch that turned him into a three-time all-star and once the clutch playmaker around whom the Wizards (3-6) had constructed a playoff team.
Now Arenas is adjusting to life as a complementary player, and while he may no longer command the attention of years past, performances such as this underscore why the Wizards are encouraged he can remain a viable part of the club and with Wall configure one of the league's choice back courts.
"At this point in my life, I'm just happy to play basketball again," said Arenas, referring to knee injuries that limited him to 15 games over two seasons and a league-imposed suspension last season that kept him out the final 50 games. "So starting or coming off the bench, I know I've got to come out there and bring a spark, just play the right way."
Arenas factored in considerably during the game's decisive moments, scoring 10 points in a 17-7 run that gave Washington a 73-57 lead with 5 minutes 55 seconds to play in the third quarter. He made both his three-pointers in that stretch and added an assist to rookie forward Trevor Booker that prompted Raptors Coach Jay Triano to call timeout. It didn't do much good, as the Wizards came out of the break with eight of the next 10 points and an 81-59 lead with 3:06 to play.
The Wizards got the lead to 24, their largest of the game, three times thereafter, and by the fourth quarter, Coach Flip Saunders began emptying his bench. That allowed rookie Kevin Seraphin, for instance, to score the first points of his NBA career and fellow rookies Hilton Armstrong and Trevor Booker to gain valuable playing experience.
Both were active around the basket in expanded roles because of a knee injury to center Yi Jianlian, a top reserve who watched the proceedings from the end of the bench with Wall and injured Josh Howard. Nick Young, another reserve, added 20 points and six rebounds, and starting forward Andray Blatche finished with a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds.
The Wizards outrebounded Toronto by 47-36 and limited the Raptors (2-9) to 41 percent shooting, including 4-for-11 shooting from three-point range. No Raptors player finished with more than 16 points.
"The question was asked, do I know what to expect from our guys without John and without Yi, two of our top six guys, and I really didn't, but I said think we're going to go and compete and play hard," Saunders said. "That was a big key. Our defense has gotten better. Even though we've lost two of the last three, it started a little bit against Charlotte. Our defense got better. Shooting percentage was better against Chicago and very good as far as tonight."
Arenas can attest to that first hand. After games against Houston and Charlotte in which he missed a combined 18 of 21 shots, he since has shot 50 percent, including a 7-for-14 effort against Toronto. Arenas had a season-high 30 points on 11-for-22 shooting against the Bulls and made 7 of 10 three-pointers.
These past two games have been quite encouraging for Arenas as he works his way back not just to full health but also into the good graces of Wizards supporters. They have been entirely welcoming with their applause in each of his four games at Verizon Center after he brought guns to the locker room in a highly publicized incident that prompted his suspension.
"At the end of the day, you've just got to perform, be a great teammate," Arenas said. "People are forgiving. I made a mistake, and now everybody wants to move on."