A Defenseless Game 5

By Michael Wilbon
Thursday, May 4, 2006


There's a simple rule in playoff basketball, perhaps the only important rule: no layups and dunks. Not in traffic, not late in the game and certainly not at the end of overtime when you're nursing a one-point lead on the road in high-stakes Game 5.

If the Washington Wizards could stop somebody from making open layups, they'd be sitting pretty right now, but they couldn't. Seems they never do.

LeBron James's driving layup in overtime was the real killer, the game-winner for Cleveland and probably a series back-breaker for the Wizards. But there were so many Cleveland layups you lost count, most of them coming from tiny guards Eric Snow and Flip Murray, a jump shooter.

When James received the inbounds pass from Larry Hughes, you knew it was over. Caron Butler and Jared Jeffries, the two Wizards entrusted to defend James, had fouled out. So James got it with 3.6 seconds left and went to the rim as easy as Saturday morning at the Y. This is why he's the Golden Child, because he can hit you with a triple-double one night and a game-winner in the same series. Count me as a witness.

Oh, yes it was a fabulous game, as smooth and rhythmic a game as we've seen in the first round of these playoffs. And no doubt, the Wizards have to be credited for coming back from seven down with 78 seconds left to tie it and force overtime, for nailing one clutch shot after another late in the game. But how do you get more heartbreaking than giving up a layup at the buzzer?

You don't.

You've never seen a team give up so many layups, seriously -- not in the playoffs. And in the end it undermined a 44-point performance by Gilbert Arenas, whose pair of foul shots with 3.6 seconds left should have carried the Wizards back home with a 3-2 lead and a chance to win this series at home Friday night.

So how do you lose a game when your Big Three scores 96 points and your team shoots 52.4 percent?

You let LeBron James score 45, Larry Hughes score 24 and allow the other team to shoot 54.3 percent.

If it's offense you want from your playoff basketball, this is your series, as evidenced by Cleveland's 121-120 victory. If you're tired of forearms in the back and blocked shots and double-teams limiting what the stars can do, then you should pray the Wizards and Cavaliers go the full seven games, which they probably will. Defense indeed wins championships, which neither of these teams is in danger of doing this spring. But offense, especially when players this skilled meet so little resistance, is awfully entertaining stuff for a playoff prelim.

The lane was open, the three-point arc was unprotected and the two teams exploited every opening. Arenas, unbelievably, hit 14 of 24 shots and all 10 of his free throws. Jamison hit 13 of 24 shots. There was no shot they couldn't get or make.

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