Wizards 110, Spurs 95
The signature moment in the still-young career of Gilbert Arenas came last spring in Chicago, when the Washington Wizards guard made a game-winning jumper to clinch Game 5 of the first-round playoff series against the Bulls.
The signature game came last night, when Arenas scored 43 points on 15-of-20 shooting to lead the Wizards to a 110-95 victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in front of a sellout crowd of 20,173 at MCI Center.
It was the ninth 40-point game of Arenas's career and the highest individual scoring output in the NBA this season.
"I was in a groove," Arenas said. "I'm a scorer, and tonight, I had it going so I kept scoring. But the most important thing was the win."
Arenas scored a career-high 44 points last April in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers but this performance could be called the best of his career because it came against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and helped the Wizards improve to 5-1.
"He couldn't miss and it was against not just any team but that team, a great team," said forward Antawn Jamison, who finished with 19 points and a team-high eight rebounds. "They take pride in team defense, in stopping individuals, but tonight, they threw any and every body on him and it was like he was in one of those Rucker League games. The guy is amazing, and I still don't think he gets the recognition he deserves."
With games like last night's, Arenas and the Wizards should grab some respect from the rest of the NBA. One night after waxing the Seattle SuperSonics, 137-96, the Wizards ended San Antonio's five-game road trip on a bad note and remained securely in first place in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference.
Spurs guard Tony Parker finished with 23 points and six assists and shooting guard Manu Ginobili was red-hot himself, hitting 8 of 12 shots on his way to a team-high 28 points, but the Wizards successfully clamped down on two-time league MVP Tim Duncan, who made just 3 of 18 shots and finished with 11 points.
The Wizards rotated Jared Jeffries, Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas and Michael Ruffin on Duncan, who went through a prolonged drought without a field goal that stretched from the 6-minute-59-second mark of the first quarter to the 5:40 mark of the fourth.
Four nights after Los Angeles Clippers power forward Elton Brand lit up the Wizards for 31 points, Coach Eddie Jordan elected not to double-team Duncan. Whether the strategy had anything to do with it, Duncan looked out of sorts, missing several put-backs, short jump hooks and turnaround jump shots he typically makes.
"Tonight, Gilbert was just on fire," Parker said. "Everything was going in, basket after basket."
Still, Arenas did his best to put the night in perspective.
"The only thing this does is make us 5-1," he said. "We beat them but we lost a game that we feel we shouldn't have lost Wednesday. This was basically a makeup game for us. We have to come out and keep playing hard. We can't celebrate. Just because we beat the champs doesn't mean we're better than the champs."
Arenas had a lot to do with San Antonio's struggles. The first sign that he was in special place came at the start of the second quarter, when Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich -- already frustrated after watching Arenas hit three of his first shots over Parker -- turned to first-team all defensive performer Bruce Bowen and asked him to defend Arenas.
It didn't matter.
Arenas keyed a 28-point Washington second quarter, then really took control of the game in the third when he had 18 points in a variety of ways: drives to the basket, pull-up jump shots and one long three-pointer.
In the fourth quarter, Caron Butler scored eight of his 17 points while fellow newcomer Antonio Daniels chipped in with six.
"It was great two nights of basketball," Jordan said. "It was a great weekend for D.C."