By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 20, 2008
CLEVELAND, April 19 -- With just more than four minutes remaining in Game 1 on Saturday, the Washington Wizards were well positioned to finish off the Cleveland Cavaliers and steal home-court advantage in the best-of-seven first-round series.
A layup by Gilbert Arenas had given the Wizards a two-point lead, and the Cavaliers proceeded to miss four straight shots.
However, in a finish that was hauntingly similar to recent playoff losses to the Cavaliers, the Wizards missed 11 straight shots following Arenas's layup. And, as usual, LeBron James made them pay.
On consecutive Cleveland possessions, James drove around nemesis DeShawn Stevenson and scored, helping the Cavaliers finish the game on an 11-2 run and emerge with a 93-86 victory.
Game 2 is Monday night in Cleveland.
In a quiet Washington locker room after the game, all-star forward Antawn Jamison (23 points and 19 rebounds) lamented a key stretch in which he missed three straight wide-open shots -- including a pair of three-point attempts -- when he could have expanded Washington's lead.
"It hurts when I look at the box score," said Jamison, who set a career high for playoff rebounds but went 1 of 8 from three-point range. "First of all, 1 for 8 is very disappointing. They were open shots and shots that I normally make. I felt very comfortable, but I am going to do everything possible to make sure I am ready for Game 2. My teammates believe in me, and they gave me the opportunity to convert. I just came up short."
The Wizards, who shot 40.2 percent for the game and made 6 of 24 three-point attempts, could have helped themselves by being more aggressive.
Though the Cavaliers went into the penalty with 7 minutes 24 seconds remaining in the game -- meaning any foul by Cleveland from that point on would result in two Washington free throw attempts -- the Wizards too often settled for jump shots instead of attacking the basket.
Cleveland made 28 of 37 free throw attempts while the Wizards made 14 of 17. James, who finished with a game-high 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting, attempted 14 free throws by himself.
"We didn't drive the ball as much as we should have," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We didn't get to the free throw line. I know they shot maybe 20 more free throws, but that's nobody's fault but ours. When you are in the bonus with 7:30 to go, you've got to get the ball to the basket. We settled and we missed."
The Cavaliers have knocked the Wizards out of the playoffs each of the last two seasons and now have beaten the Wizards in seven straight playoff games, dating from the 2006 postseason.
Tensions between the teams escalated after the Wizards won 101-99 at Verizon Center on March 13. Following that game, Stevenson called James "overrated" and Arenas later said that he welcomed a first-round meeting with the Cavaliers because he did not believe they could beat the Wizards three straight times.
With 1.3 seconds left in the first half Saturday, heated words turned into a tussle when James and Wizards center Brendan Haywood exchanged shoves after getting tangled up near midcourt. As they clashed, several players ran toward them, including Jamison, Caron Butler, and Cavaliers centers Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ben Wallace. James and Haywood were assessed technical fouls.
Earlier in the game, James was inadvertently hit in the face by Wizards forward Andray Blatche while driving to the basket and later retaliated by throwing an elbow to Blatche's chin.
Still, the game's outcome was decided by the way the teams played, not by what was said or the number of elbows thrown. During the decisive fourth quarter, the Wizards made 4 of 20 shots and were outscored, 28-17.
And, while the Cavaliers received solid contributions from several sources, including Daniel Gibson (11 points) and Eleanor Roosevelt product Delonte West (16), Stevenson made 1 of 9 shots for the Wizards while reserves Roger Mason Jr. and Darius Songaila combined to make 1 of 10 shots.
"It's one game," Jordan said. "They drew first blood. We have enough faith and belief in our system to say, look what happened: We held them to 39 percent [shooting]. We did a good job rebounding. They won some skirmishes, but now we have to make some adjustments, not a lot because if we score on four or five of those possessions and get good looks, it's a different ballgame."