Wizards Are Left Reaching

deshawn stevenson - washington wizards
DeShawn Stevenson scores nine points on 3-of-12 shooting in 36 minutes Sunday as the Wizards put up a fight before falling to the Cavaliers in Game 1 in Cleveland. (Jonathan Newton - The Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007

CLEVELAND, April 22 -- The Washington Wizards were competitive and at times caused a few nervous rumbles to roll through Quicken Loans Arena. But as Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers played out Sunday afternoon, energy and effort were not enough.

With all-stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler looking on in suits, the Wizards were outmatched by the Cavaliers, who rolled to a 97-82 victory

If the Wizards are to avoid the sweep so many have predicted, they will almost certainly have to make more than 36.7 percent of their shots, which was the primary problem Sunday afternoon. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be Wednesday night in Cleveland.

Though their only lead came on the first basket of the game, a jump hook by Antawn Jamison, who finished with 28 points on 10-of-27 shooting with 14 rebounds, the Wizards hovered within striking distance throughout, until Cleveland pulled away with a 6-0 run in the fourth quarter.

"We worked hard and we did the things we wanted to do, but we just didn't put the ball in the basket when we needed to," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We couldn't finish plays as often as we should have. The effort was great and the intent was great, but we didn't make plays."

LeBron James posted a triple-double in Cleveland's Game 1 victory in the first round against the Wizards last spring but didn't force the action Sunday and cruised to 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting with nine rebounds and seven assists.

Aside from poor shooting, the Wizards also were done in by former teammate Larry Hughes (27 points on 9-of-17 shooting) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.

Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson had two three-point shots rim in and out and finished with nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. Starting center Etan Thomas was mostly a nonfactor, finishing with two points, five rebounds and three turnovers in 21 minutes. Guard Antonio Daniels scored nine points with 11 assists in 46 minutes.

The game's momentum swung Cleveland's way at the end of the first half. Trailing 45-41 following a layup by Jamison, the Wizards stopped the Cavaliers, called a timeout and had 11 seconds to set up for a good shot.

However, Jarvis Hayes rushed a three-pointer and Cleveland's Drew Gooden snagged the rebound and passed ahead to Hughes, who pulled up and drained a three-pointer at the buzzer, sending the Cavaliers into the locker room with a 48-41 lead.

Jordan blamed himself for the sequence, saying he called the wrong play. Everyone agreed that Hughes's shot was a major boost for the Cavaliers.

"He hit a three like at the buzzer and they get momentum, that just kills us," Stevenson said. "It makes a four-point game into a seven-point game."

Still, the Wizards trailed by only six with 10 minutes 35 seconds remaining in the fourth after a three-point play by Roger Mason. However, that's when the Cavaliers took control by exploiting the size advantage enjoyed by the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas.

Ilgauskas, who was defended by the 6-10 Thomas, 6-8 Darius Songaila and 6-8 Michael Ruffin in the quarter, made 5 of 6 free throws in the period and gave Cleveland an 87-74 lead when he backed Songaila down and made a short jump hook with 5:53 to play.

Jordan defended his decision to defend Ilgauskas with smaller players rather than 7-foot center Brendan Haywood, whose five minutes of action came in the first half. Haywood gave Ilgauskas trouble during last season's first-round series.

"I just thought that the guys that were playing were playing hard and playing smart, so I'm playing those guys," Jordan said. "I don't care if they're 5-2."

Ilgauskas, who averaged 9.8 points in last spring's six-game series, was surprised that he didn't see more of Haywood. "Yeah," Ilgauskas said. "They played really good defense against me last year in the playoffs. I really struggled. I really don't know why he didn't play much. I'm sure we'll see more in the upcoming games."

Regardless of who they employ to handle Ilgauskas, the Wizards know that their margin for error in this series is minimal. They turned the ball over only 11 times (Cleveland converted them into 17 points) and held their own on the boards as the Cavaliers had just a 46-40 edge in rebounding.

The key difference, aside from Washington's sub-40 shooting percentage, was that the often plodding, half-court oriented Cavaliers held a 21-1 advantage in fast-break points.

"You have to take what's given to you," James said. "We got a lot of opportunities to get out and run. We know it's going to be a challenge for those guys to get out and run because those guys play a lot of minutes, especially those first five guys and a couple of guys off the bench. They play a lot of minutes so getting out to run on the offensive end can be challenging."

Despite the ease of Sunday's win, there was a moment when silence fell over the crowd and the tone of the entire series, and the entire Eastern Conference playoffs, nearly took a huge turn.

During the third quarter, James went for a layup and came down on Thomas's ankle. James rolled onto his back clutching at the ankle, but eventually he rose from the ground.

The Wizards will find out if they can do the same in Game 2.

"It's one game and one game does not decide any playoff series," Songaila said. "We have to regroup, fix some things that need to be fixed and come back for the next game. That's all we can do."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company