By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 4, 2006
CLEVELAND, May 3 -- After making two free throws to give his team a one-point lead with 3.6 seconds remaining in overtime Wednesday night, Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas stepped into his team's huddle and delivered a message.
"I told everyone to calm down," Arenas said. "I said: 'It's not over. There's three seconds left. We've been in this situation before where we've lost on a game-winner.' "
Little did Arenas realize how correct he was, because moments after he uttered those words, Larry Hughes stood at half court and inbounded the ball to LeBron James.
Instead of rushing and throwing up an off-balance jump shot as he did when he had a chance to make game-winner at the end of regulation, James weaved his way around Michael Ruffin and Antawn Jamison, tightroped his way along the baseline and flipped in a short layup with 0.9 of a second remaining, sending the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 121-120 victory in Game 5 of what is turning into a classic first-round playoff series.
Game 6 is Friday night at Verizon Center and if needed, Game 7 will be back in Cleveland on Sunday.
James's final basket came seconds after Arenas gave his team a lead with those free throws and capped a frantic night of basketball that featured 28 lead changes and two monster scoring performances by James (45 points) and Arenas (44 points).
The Cavaliers led by seven points with 1 minute 18 seconds remaining in regulation but the Wizards forced overtime by scoring six straight points, four of them coming on layups by Caron Butler.
James scored his 45 points, made 14 of 23 shots and added 7 rebounds and 6 assists while Hughes broke out of a series-long slump to score 24 points on 8-of-19 shooting for the Cavaliers. Reserve guard Flip Murray also provided a huge boost off the bench by scoring 10 of his 12 points during the third quarter.
Arenas scored his career-playoff high by making 14 of 24 shots, six three-pointers and all 10 of his free throw attempts.
Antawn Jamison finished with a career playoff-high 32 points and Butler shook off a poor shooting start to finish with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but the Wizards lost because they never could get a handle on James, who scored at least 40 points for the second time in the series.
It didn't help that on the game's final play, Washington's two best defenders, Jared Jeffries and Caron Butler, were sitting on the bench after fouling out. As the Cavaliers got ready for the final play, 7-footer Brendan Haywood hovered over Hughes and Ruffin shadowed James. James rolled off a pick by Donyell Marshall and ran to the wing, where he caught Hughes's pass.
"I ran out at him because I didn't want him to hit a turnaround jump shot," Ruffin said. "I tried just to make it as difficult as possible for him."
James dribbled past Ruffin on the baseline and then worked his way around the approaching Jamison without stepping out of bounds. Once he got past Jamison, James simply elevated and flipped the ball over the rim, sending a sellout crowd of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena into bedlam.
The Wizards had a timeout remaining and could have advanced the ball to half court for a chance to set up for a final shot, but instead inbounded the ball to Arenas, who heaved a long miss.
"He made a great play," Arenas said when asked why the Wizards didn't foul James and make him win the game at the foul line. "We wanted to try and stay with him. He made something out of nothing. That is what great players do."
James could have been the game's goat.
With the Cavaliers leading 107-105 with 11 seconds left in regulation, James was dribbling up court when he jumped and tried to make a long pass ahead to Eric Snow. The pass was intercepted by Butler, who passed to Antonio Daniels before getting the ball back from him and making a layup that tied the game with 7.8 seconds remaining.
With Butler defending and Jamison coming over to double-team, James missed a 20-foot fadeaway jumper at the buzzer and the game went to overtime. However, James had the chance to redeem himself and he made the most of it, making his second game-winning shot of the series.
The Wizards will have to win at home Friday night to give themselves a chance to return to Cleveland for Game 7. History suggests that the Cavaliers have a huge advantage after winning Wednesday night because only 28 of 193 teams have won a series after trailing 3-2
"It's just one game, that's how we have to look at it," Arenas said. "We have to go home and come out and play. We can't focus on a Game 7. We have to worry about Game 6. We're a little down. Down because two of the games we've lost, we lost them close. But we'll bounce back. The series is not over."