Wizards Fight Back in Game 2

Gilbert Arenas
Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas throws down a dunk against Cavaliers defender LeBron James during Washington's Game 2 win. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

CLEVELAND, April 25 -- The Washington Wizards were humiliated after dropping Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, but instead of cowering in front of the growing legend that is LeBron James, Coach Eddie Jordan's players dug in and redeemed themselves.

The turnaround began with a practice on Sunday at Verizon Center. Observers of the two-hour workout said it was as focused, intense and spirited a session as Wizards have engaged in all season.

With an 89-84 victory in Game 2 Tuesday night, the Wizards showed that they are serious about being something other than James's playoff prop. Game 3 is Friday night at Verizon Center, where the Wizards beat the Cavaliers twice during the regular season.

The Wizards stole home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series because their three best players bounced back from rough performances in Game 1. After totaling 48 points on Saturday, Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler scored 72 Tuesday night while making several crucial plays down the stretch.

"We were so disappointed in ourselves," said Jamison, who scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. "To come out in the first game like that. National TV. The spotlight. And we pretty much laid an egg. We embarrassed the coaching staff, we embarrassed ourselves. We showed that in practice [Sunday]. It wasn't one of those practices where we just showed up, took a few shots and went home. Coach was on us and we went at it. That's what you saw in this game."

In a game where both teams shot under 40 percent from the field and momentum swung from sideline to sideline all game long, the Wizards won because of a handful of possessions in the fourth quarter.

Washington led by three with less than 15 seconds remaining but Cleveland had the ball. James was double-teamed at the top of the key and shot a pass down the lane to Anderson Varejao, who was under the basket when he caught the pass and had a chance to make a layup that would have trimmed the Washington lead to one.

However, the 6-foot-10 Varejao never saw Arenas creep in behind him. Arenas reached in and, without fouling, slapped the ball off Varajeo's knee. Jamison grabbed the loose ball and made two free throws after he was fouled by Varejao.

After James missed a three-pointer with 6.9 seconds remaining, Jamison snagged the rebound. When the final buzzer sounded, Jamison whipped out his mouth guard and sprinted to the Wizards' bench, where he was greeted by happy teammates.

Arenas, who was off for three quarters before rallying late in Game 1, finished with 30 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds. Jamison scored 11 points Saturday and was 1 of 5 from three-point range but hit one of the biggest shots of the season in Game 2, a three-pointer over the 6-foot-10 Drew Gooden that gave the Wizards a five-point lead with 2 minutes 5 seconds remaining.

Butler, who fouled out in the final minute, carried the Wizards early. He sparked an 18-0 first-half run by scoring 11 points in a span of two minutes and finished with 21 points and nine rebounds while taking his turns defending James.

The Wizards only shot 39.7 percent but they made up for it with a vastly improved defensive effort, particularly against James. As they did in Game 1, Jared Jeffries, Antonio Daniels and Butler took turns defending James but Washington's double-teams were more decisive, their rotations were more crisp and their overall approach was more aggressive.

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