Bulls 118, Wizards 111
Gilbert Arenas shocked the Chicago Bulls when he hit a game-winning jump shot over Kirk Hinrich to give the Washington Wizards a victory in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series last spring.
Last night, under far less critical circumstances, the Bulls earned a level of revenge by overcoming a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit and spoiling Arenas's 42-point night on their way to pulling out a stunning 118-111 victory in front of 18,833 at MCI Center. This was perhaps the harshest Washington loss this season if only because the Wizards showed so much determination, energy and poise while erasing Chicago's 14-point, first-half lead.
The Wizards (8-10) fell two games below .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season and wasted a prime opportunity to beat one of the teams they could be competing against for a playoff spot in April. Washington must bounce back quickly because the sting of last night's loss had hardly worn off when the team boarded a plane and flew to Miami for tonight's game against the Southeast Division rival Heat.
Even though the Wizards sported a different look by wearing uniforms styled after the 1972-73 Baltimore Bullets, they were plagued by the same porous defense they have displayed all season. The Bulls, averaging 94.1 points coming into last night's game, finished with a season high in points and shot a season-high 54.4 percent from the field.
"To blow a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, that's an embarrassment," said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who finished with 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting and 12 rebounds. "There's no other way to put it."
After giving up a season-high 34 second-quarter points and trailing 56-47 at halftime, the Wizards used a 25-10 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters to build what appeared to be a comfortable lead.
The real trouble began when the Bulls ran a perfectly executed backdoor play after coming out of a timeout. Hinrich flipped an alley-oop pass to the cutting Luol Deng, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Deng threw down a two-handed dunk to trim Washington's lead to 109-102 with 3 minutes 57 seconds remaining. Washington's Caron Butler made a pair of free throws to put the Wizards ahead 111-102 at the 3:06 mark but the next three Washington possessions ended with a turnover, an Arenas charge and an Arenas drive that ended with Arenas sprawled out beneath the Chicago basket clutching his back.
While the Wizards went scoreless after Butler's free throws, Chicago continued to get, and make, good shots. Hinrich, who finished with 22 points and 13 assists, made a jumper, Chris Duhon curled off a screen and knocked down one of his six three-pointers, Hinrich made one of two free throws, Darius Songaila made two more and then Deng put the Bulls ahead 112-111 with a reverse layup off a nice pass from Songaila with 1:12 remaining.
With Arenas on the bench trying to recover, Jamison missed a flip shot and the Bulls expanded the lead to 114-111 when Songaila found himself posting up Chucky Atkins in the lane, where he turned and flipped in a short jump hook that essentially put away the Wizards.
Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said he declined to burn a timeout to get Arenas back into the game for the possession because he wasn't sure of Arenas's condition.
"I thought we could get away with one more possession," Jordan said. "With him looking so worn and torn and in pain, I thought we could get away with it."
Arenas was limping around the Wizards' locker room after the game and said he was unsure of his status for tonight's game at Miami.
"[The back] is day-to-day right now," Arenas said. "But in my mind-set, I'm going to play. I am not going to let a back injury stop me from playing and disappoint my team because we are in a dogfight right now. I don't want to lay down for anyone."
The back, which Arenas said has bothered him all week, didn't prevent Arenas from posting his ninth 30-point game of the season and the 10th 40-point game of his NBA career. Arenas had struggled in Friday's loss to the Pacers in Indianapolis but continued his trend of following up a poor showing with a great one. The Wizards have lost all six games in which Arenas scored fewer than 20 points, but he's followed five of those games by scoring 30 or more.
On this night however, Arenas's brilliance wasn't enough, and the Wizards were left pondering one that got away.
"The playoffs are distant in the past and they are distant in the future for me right now," Jordan said when asked about last season's playoff series against the Bulls. "That seems like a long time ago."