WASHINGTON (AP)—Gilbert Arenas emerged in a huge blue robe, the hood pulled low over his face. He said he was trying to look like a wizard. He instead resembled a boxer, one ready to deliver a knockout punch after getting rocked in the first round.
Three days after a nervous performance against LeBron James to start the season, Arenas put up 44 points in the Washington Wizards’ home opener Saturday night, leading a 124-117 victory over the turnover-prone Boston Celtics.
“I found my rhythm this game,” said Arenas, who made 14 of 25 field goals and 11 of 12 free throws. “I think I was just anxious that first game. I wanted to get out there. Tonight I was back to my old self, scoring, distributing the ball and keeping it up-tempo.”
Arenas was so pumped before Wednesday’s game against Cleveland that he stayed up late dribbling a ball in his hotel room—driving teammate Caron Butler crazy next door—then went out and scored only seven points on 2-for-12 shooting. Last year, he routinely followed bad games with good ones, and no one should have expected anything different Saturday.
“We knew he’d come out and play well,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said, “because he struggled in his first game.”
Arenas scored 16 in the third quarter, when the Wizards pulled away to take their first double-digit lead. The Wizards’ “Big Three” of Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison accounted for 34 of Washington’s 40 points in the period. Jamison finished with 29 points, Butler had 20, and the Wizards overcame their persistent defensive and rebounding woes by shooting 52 percent from the field.
“I’m disappointed we gave up layups again and we got outrebounded again,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on, but a win is a win.”
Wally Szczerbiak, who left in the first quarter after getting cut near his right eye, returned in the second with stitches and a bandage and finished with 33 points to lead the Celtics, who are 0-3 for the first time since 1994. Szczerbiak single-handedly kept Boston in the game, scoring 10 of his team’s last 14 points in the first half and 10 of its first 11 in the second half.
“We’ve got to get off this schneid, boy, I’ll tell ya,” Szczerbiak said. “That’s three close, tough losses and we’ve got to start making these go our way. We’re a young team and we’ve got to develop a winning attitude.”
The Celtics rallied to pull within five in the fourth quarter on Sebastian Telfair’s 3-pointer with 1:06 to play, but that was Boston’s last field goal. Butler answered with a fadeaway in the paint, and the Wizards made three free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
Telfair, who struggled in Boston’s first two games, scored 24 points. Paul Pierce added 23, but 13 of those came in the first quarter.
The Celtics shot well from the field (53 percent) and had a 43-28 rebounding advantage, but they were undone by 23 turnovers that led to 29 Wizards points. Boston committed seven turnovers in the pivotal third quarter, when the Wizards had none.
“We gave them points off of turnovers,” Rivers said. “That was the difference.”
Arenas donned his wizard-boxer attire during the laser-enhanced pregame introductions that have become a regular feature of the Wizards’ first home game. He discarded the robe with much fanfare at midcourt, and new backcourt teammate DeShawn Stevenson announced to the crowd: “We’ve got two goals in our minds: Make it to the Eastern Conference finals and make it to the NBA finals.”
“I think he lit a fire under himself,” Wizards guard Antonio Daniels said. “It’s very tough to keep Gilbert down.”
Arenas was held under 20 points only 14 times last season, then averaged 33.1 in the following games. He was held to single digits only once— and followed that with a 37-point game. … Szczerbiak was cut when he banged heads with teammate Kendrick Perkins. … The game featured the two cities tied to the life and career of Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach, who died last weekend. The sellout crowd of 20,173 observed a pregame moment of silence in memory of Auerbach, who lived in the nation’s capital during his decades-long association with the Celtics as a coach, general manager and president.