Winning Formula Is Simple: Washington's Big 3 Subtracts Cleveland's Big 1

Caron Butler, right, and Jared Jeffries took turns guarding LeBron James in Game 2, while Antawn Jamison, left, jumped in to provide a double-team on select possesions.
Caron Butler, right, and Jared Jeffries took turns guarding LeBron James in Game 2, while Antawn Jamison, left, jumped in to provide a double-team on select possesions. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006

Antawn Jamison adjusted his tie, straightened his suit, grabbed a travel bag and prepared to step out of the visitors' locker room in Cleveland late Tuesday night following the Washington Wizards' 89-84 win over the Cavaliers in Game 2. Then he paused and offered a parting shot.

"It's a series now," he said.

Tuesday's win guaranteed the Wizards a return to Cleveland for Game 5 next Wednesday. In the meantime, Jamison and his teammates will have a chance to take control of the best-of-seven series in the comfortable environment of Verizon Center, where they beat the Cavaliers twice during the regular season while posting an overall home record of 27-14.

Games 3 and 4 are tomorrow and Sunday at Verizon Center, and then the series shifts back to Cleveland.

Caron Butler, who scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds while taking turns defending LeBron James in Game 2, wasn't in town last spring when the Wizards took control of their first-round series against the Chicago Bulls with home wins in Games 3 and 4, but he's hoping the Wizards receive a similar boost.

"It's a Friday night," Butler said. "It's the playoffs. We stole a game out here. LeBron's in town. If all of that can't get people hyped up, I don't know what can. I know I'm going to be ready."

It's the swing game, a night when either team can take a lead while stamping its own personality on the series. The vibe surrounding the series certainly changed between Games 1 and 2. After James dominated the tempo of Game 1 with a triple-double while Jamison, Butler and Gilbert Arenas struggled, it appeared the Wizards were in trouble.

How would the defensively challenged Wizards stop James? Could the Wizards match the production of Cleveland's bench, which held a 32-16 scoring advantage in Game 1? Would the big three of Jamison, Butler and Arenas get it going before it was too late?

And now, after the Wizards befuddled James in Game 2 into 10 turnovers while causing him to miss 18 shots, and after the big three combined to score 72 points while making key plays down the stretch, momentum has swung Washington's way.

"If you look at series standards, basketball standards, they did what they had to do by coming in here and stealing home-court advantage," said Cavaliers forward Donyell Marshall, who finished with three points and zero rebounds in Game 2 after scoring 19 points with seven rebounds in Game 1. "We have to go into D.C. and take it back. Obviously they are going to come in here and play hard. We have to go in there and play hard as well. We knew this was going to be a hard-fought series, from day one we knew that we were going to match up with them."

The key matchup has been Jared Jeffries and Butler against James. In two games, James has made 19 of 52 shots (36.5 percent), including only 2 of 10 three-point attempts.

It was telling that late in Game 2, when he had a chance to attempt a game-tying three-pointer from the top of the key, James passed off to Anderson Varejao, a reserve who averaged 4.6 points a game during the regular season.

Arenas stripped Varejao and the Wizards iced the win on a pair of Jamison free throws.

The Wizards selectively double-teamed James and aggressively attacked his right-hand side when he tried to turn the corner from the top of the key on the pick-and-roll. Otherwise, Jeffries and Butler had success staying in front of James one-on-one, and they forced him to take contested jump shots rather than bull his way to the basket as he did in Game 1.

However, the Wizards shouldn't get too giddy, because James did miss seven shots inside the paint, including one easy breakaway dunk. He's not likely to miss those shots two games in a row.

"I missed a lot of buckets I normally make," James said.

James's struggles and the bounce-back performances of Jamison (21 points), Butler (21) and Arenas (30), who combined for only 48 in Game 1, were the biggest differences Tuesday. Players on both teams appear to be digging in for long, tough series.

"I'm not disappointed," James said. "It's going to be a dogfight now. The series is not won in two games. Just because we won Game 1 didn't mean the series was over, and now that they've won Game 2, it doesn't mean that they are going to win the series. It's a series and we have to go out there on the road and try to take care of business, just like they did in Game 2."


© 2006 The Washington Post Company