There were times when the thought of paying Gilbert Arenas more than $20 million a year to play basketball wasn’t completely preposterous. One of the first times was immediately after Game 5 of the Wizards’ series against the Bulls in the first round of the 2005 Eastern Conference playoffs.
After Jannero Pargo tied the score with five seconds to play, Arenas’ buzzer-beater over the outstretched arm of Kirk Hinrich rescued Washington, which led by 22 points in the third quarter and 10 points with 55 seconds remaining, from an epic collapse. The Wizards escaped Chicago with a 112-110 win and a three-games-to-two series lead, and they’d close out the Bulls at home for their first — and still only — playoff series win since 1982.
Wizards fans, including the Comcast SportsNet broadcast team of Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier, have been waiting for another giant-photo-on-A1-moment like the one Arenas created that day ever since. I talked to Buck and Phil about Arenas’ shot, and their thoughts on the Wizards’ upcoming series against the Bulls.
Buckhantz on the shot:
“I remember the anticipation going into that shot. I remember a building filled with Chicago fans all standing on their feet, Arenas shooting over an outstretched hand, the ball barely clearing that hand, the ball falling through the basket and then screaming Dagger. And then I think I said, ‘I think he just sucked the life out of the building.’ Because that’s exactly how I felt at the time. That was, I guess to this day, the most exciting play that I’ve called.”
Chenier on the shot:
“I remember how calm he was. It was like he knew he was going to make that shot, he was destined to make that shot. … Pargo hit the three-pointer that tied the game. At that point, with 3 or 4 seconds left, I’m thinking that if we go into overtime, it will be such a mental and emotional blow that it will be hard for our guys to recover. That’s what made that shot so amazing.
“I don’t think that I have called a game where we actually won a playoff series other than that one, so it definitely stands out in my mind. There was something about Gilbert at that time. He possessed a confidence and an air about him. Later on they started using this word swag. He had that.”
With one flick of his right wrist, Gilbert Arenas rescued his crew from the brink of the biggest NBA playoff embarrassment in recent memory and instead delivered one of the most memorable playoff victories in team history. Perhaps this is where Arenas’s story will have officially begun, when we look back on it.
We’re not accustomed to seeing the Chicago Bulls walk off the floor losers after a buzzer-beater. That was the province of Michael Jordan, Steve Kerr and Toni Kukoc for years and years, walking off the floor triumphant after some miracle shot. And for the first time in a long, long time they felt the despair of turnabout. After a mighty noise accompanied Jannero Pargo’s three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left, erasing every bit of what had been a 22-point second-half deficit, the Wizards called a timeout, then eventually threw the ball to Arenas and let him do what players who think of themselves as stars do in the playoffs. He rose over Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich and the shot swished the net to just as mighty a silence.
Asked if he ever heard a building go so silent, go from such unbridled joy and hope to such depression, Arenas said, “Only when Michael Jordan did it.”
Buckhantz on the key to beating the Bulls:
“There’s no question on my end that the defense will be there. You’re going to see a physical game and it just depends on the officials as to how physical the game is. Generally they let them play in the playoffs, and that changes the complexion of the game. … If Washington plays tough defense, which I believe they will, and if they’re able to get looks and shoot the ball somewhere in the high 40s, I like the Wizards’ chances.”
Chenier on the key to beating the Bulls:
“I think the Wizards have to not be impatient offensively. This is a team, the Bulls, defensively, that will take away your first and second options. If we move the ball, if we protect the ball like we have the past two games, and we get the open shots, I think we’re a better offensive team than Chicago. We have better shooters and scorers. We have to make things just as uncomfortable for them to shoot and to score as they have on us. We have to buy into physical defense and we have to make them uncomfortable and be in their face.”