A Four-Gone Conclusion
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Even as the Washington Wizards built second- and third-quarter leads and even as the Cleveland Cavaliers played with a nonchalance that may come back to bite them as their playoff journey continues, an air of inevitability hung over Verizon Center last night.
Trailing 3-0 in the best-of-seven series and facing elimination, the undermanned Wizards again played with spunk before breaking down in the fourth quarter and losing, 97-90.
The Cavaliers capped a 4-0 sweep, knocking the Wizards out of the playoffs for the second straight season; they await the winner of the New Jersey Nets-Toronto Raptors series. It was the ninth time in franchise history that a Washington team was swept out of the postseason, and this time it was Cleveland's budding superstar, LeBron James, who held the broom.
James scored a series-high 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds and seven assists, including two in the final minute, and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and added 19 rebounds.
James and Ilgauskas essentially ended Washington's season with 33 seconds remaining. Working from the top of the key, James drove, drew the defense and passed to the corner to an open Ilgauskas, who drained a 16-foot jump shot over fellow Lithuanian Darius Songaila.
"At the end of ballgames, I am going to get double-teams, but through the whole series my team has been able to step up and knock down shots," said James, who averaged 27.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the series. "I do not have to win a game by scoring. I just have to control the pace and let the other guys take care of it."
Antawn Jamison did his best to match James and capped a sensational series by scoring 31 points on 12-of-25 shooting. Songaila finished with a career playoff-high 16 points and guard Antonio Daniels finished with 13 points and 12 assists.
During an early stretch of the fourth quarter, Songaila scored eight straight points for the Wizards, and he gave the sold-out Verizon Center crowd some hope when he drove and banked in a running jump hook over Drew Gooden, drawing the Wizards within a point with 1 minute 46 seconds remaining.
After former Wizard Larry Hughes missed a jump shot for Cleveland and Daniels missed a difficult running layup for the Wizards, James drove baseline, drew the defense and dropped a pass to Ilgauskas, whose layup gave the Cavaliers a 91-88 lead with 59 seconds left.
Pressured by Eric Snow at the top of the key, Jamison tried to drive but dribbled the ball off his left foot and it rolled out of bounds, giving Cleveland possession with 51 seconds left.
James then made the game's biggest play by dribbling into the lane, where he was quickly double-teamed before jumping and passing out to Ilgauskas, who was spotted up in the corner. With Songaila running at him, Ilgauskas calmly released a jump shot that hit all net, pushing the Cleveland lead to five with 33 seconds to play.
James made a similar play to ice Cleveland's Game 3 victory by driving and dishing to Sasha Pavlovic, who made a back-breaking three-pointer.