Wizards let opportunities slip away against Pistons

(Duane Burleson)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2010

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. - Gilbert Arenas sat in front his locker room stall, arms folded, right foot soaking in a bucket of ice, and he started second-guessing a questionable pass that he made in the Washington Wizards' 115-110 overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Arenas was fine with driving and kicking out the ball to Andray Blatche for a wide-open - but errant - three-pointer at the end of regulation, something he said he would've done over and over again. But Arenas wishes he could go back to when there were about 20 seconds left in the extra frame when the Wizards trailed by just two points, after yet another jumper by Detroit's Richard Hamilton, and he spotted Nick Young calling for the ball at half court.

Rather than dribble up the floor and run one last play to go for a win or force a tie, Arenas fired the pass ahead to Young. Hamilton deflected it and the ball squirted from Young's hands, just like the Wizards (4-8) fumbled a game that they had controlled for most of the night.

"I've been running it over, do I do it again? Or was it a good play?" said Arenas, who whistled for Young in the locker room, hoping for an explanation on what happened that would bring him comfort. "We played a great game, but these are the ones that hurt. You know, the ones that you should've won."

The loss spoiled a night in which Arenas scored 19 points and established a new career high with 16 assists; JaVale McGee grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds and added a season-high 20 points; Andray Blatche scored 20 points; and Young came off the bench to score 18. But after Hamilton erupted for 12 of his game-high 27 points in overtime, the Wizards are 0-6 away from Verizon Center and remain the lone Eastern Conference team without a road victory.

"We made some steps, but we can't be satisfied with good performances and coming up dry," said Coach Flip Saunders, who remains winless against his former team (0-5) since being fired by Detroit in the summer of 2008. "We made too many stupid plays down the stretch. Those are things we have to clean up."

Arenas had two critical turnovers in overtime, but the Wizards are still smarting that they were unable to finish the game in regulation. Blatche hit a leaning, fall-away jumper to give the Wizards a 102-98 lead with 1 minute 41 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Pistons were able to tie the game when Charlie Villanueva (25 points) made a difficult, hanging layup with 20.9 seconds left.

Saunders drew up a play for Arenas, who let the clock whittle down and drove around Hamilton. When Villanueva closed in to shut off the rim, Arenas kicked the ball out to Blatche, who missed a three-pointer from the right corner as time expired. "I thought it was the right play," Arenas said. "I drove, Charlie stepped up and Dray was sitting there wide open in the corner. Dray's been hitting that shot all day. So, if I forced the shot up, I'm thinking, 'Make the pass to Dray.' It's one of those things where I have to make the right decision and I thought the right decision."

Said Blatche: "He made the right pass. He didn't try to force it. I missed the shot."

Hamilton then took over in overtime, as the Pistons ran the same play, with him coming around screens and knocking down five consecutive jumpers. He put the game away with two free throws with 12.8 seconds remaining.

"Rip in the last four minutes of overtime was what you want your great players to do - take over games," Saunders said.

The Wizards flirted with bringing back No. 1 overall pick John Wall, who was activated after warming up with the team before the game. But when the game started, Wall was wearing a blue sports jacket and seated next to the injured Josh Howard.

With Wall's sprained left foot forcing him to miss his fourth consecutive game, Arenas was playing an excellent floor game, especially in overtime, when he hit a 19-foot jumper, then assisted on three consecutive plays for the Wizards. He found Young cutting to the basket for an uncontested dunk. He fed Young again for a fallaway jumper, then hit Blatche inside the paint for a jumper.

Hamilton gave the Pistons a 112-110 lead with a 20-foot jumper from the left corner with 59.6 seconds left, and then forced Arenas into losing the ball on the next trip. When Hamilton missed a jumper on the Pistons' next possession, the Wizards put the ball in Arenas's hands and Saunders yelled, "Go!"

Arenas then whipped out a pass ahead to Young, thinking that he either would've had a fast-break layup or brought the ball back up to run a play. Young never got control of the ball. Hamilton was fouled and secured the win from the foul line. Saunders clapped his hands and shouted in frustration.

"Those are the situations, you want the ball in your best player's hands and he's got to make a play," Saunders said of Arenas. "You're not going to give the ball to Nick at half court. We tightened up."

After the game, Young was in a similar situation as Arenas, wondering whether he made a mistake as well. "Gil felt I hit two big shots and I was open," Young said. "We should've slowed it down and got something good. When I looked up and saw the time, I was like, 'I shouldn't have even yelled. I should've just ran to the corner.' But things happen. We had that game. We was playing well as a team. To see if go through our hands like that was tough."

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