They did, and paid for it.
With the Knicks hounding the guard with the knack for game-winning shots, the Washington Wizards passed the ball from Antawn Jamison to DeShawn Stevenson to Caron Butler, who dunked with 2.2 seconds remaining Wednesday night to give his team a 99-98 victory.
"So much of the focus was on Gilbert, and that enabled us to get open," said Butler, who had 27 points and a career-high 10 assists. "DeShawn made a great play. We made eye contact, and he threw it to me on the backdoor slip and I just finished real strong on the dunk."
Arenas, who has three 50-point games and two 3-point buzzer-beating game-winners in the last five weeks, was shadowed all game by Stephon Marbury and often double-teamed. He was held to 16 points on 4-for-14 shooting -- Washington had been 0-5 this season when he scored less than 20.
"I knew they weren't going to let me take the shot. You have to turn off the grill. The 'hibachi' grill didn't get turned on tonight," said Arenas, referring to the word he sometimes yells when taking a shot. "I'm not going to go out there and try to beat the double team the whole night. That's pointless."
Jamison added 21 points for the Wizards, who won their ninth straight at home and moved a half-game ahead of Orlando in the Southeast Division. The teams meet Friday in a midseason first-place showdown, and Washington will head to Florida with a message: Double-team Arenas at your own peril.
"There are other guys on this team that can play basketball," Butler said.
The Knicks lost on a night when many things went right. They contained Arenas, got a season-high 35 points from Quentin Richardson, overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half and took a 98-97 lead on Jamal Crawford's short jumper in the paint with 12 seconds remaining. Crawford's basket was one of four lead changes in the final 31 seconds.
But there was enough time for the Wizards to get one last shot. Everyone in the building was expecting Arenas to take it, but that was the one thing the Knicks weren't going to allow.
"We got it out of his hands, and we got them to make a play out of a scramble situation," New York coach Isiah Thomas said. "And they made a great play out of a scramble situation. They did the right thing at the end of the game, and our guys gave a good effort but we didn't come up with the ball."
After Butler's dunk, the Knicks could only take a quick desperation shot at the buzzer because they were out of timeouts.
"We went blow for blow with them," Richardson said. "But unfortunately they got the last punch."
Coming off a 51-point game against Utah on Monday, Arenas made only two field goals in the first half. Marbury blocked one of Arenas' jump shots and stole the ball from Arenas' hands in the open court. Marbury was also called for a foul when Arenas leaned to take a jumper. Marbury and Thomas both drew technicals for arguing the call, and Arenas sank four straight free throws to account for half of his eight first-half points.
Jared Jeffries, playing his first game in Washington since leaving the Wizards as a free agent in the offseason, was booed as he made a pair of first-quarter jumpers, but everybody on the court was overshadowed in the early going by Richardson.
Richardson scored 25 in the first half, including five 3-pointers. Without him, the Knicks shot only 12-for-30 from the field in the half. New York moved the ball well, however, getting assists on 17 of 22 first-half field goals.
The Knicks went cold and were hurt by turnovers in the third quarter. The Wizards went on a 13-1 run to take a 14-point lead, and Arenas got some revenge by swatting one of Marbury's jumper's out of bounds. Richardson's only third-quarter points came when he grabbed an airball and flung it backward over his head and into the net.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was fined $15,000 by the league for failing to leave the court in a timely manner after getting tossed from Saturday night's loss to the San Antonio Spurs. ... Arenas entered the game leading the NBA in free throws made and 3-pointers made. No player has ever led the league in both categories for a full season. ... Washington's 16-3 home record is the best in the Eastern Conference and the franchise's best home start since the 1968-69 Baltimore Bullets opened the season 18-3.
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