By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 20, 2008
CLEVELAND, April 19 -- LeBron James was knocked to the floor in the first period after Andray Blatche hit him in the mouth. He was knocked to the floor in the second period after Brendan Haywood fouled him while attempting to set a screen. Haywood then stood over him. He drove to the basket so many times and absorbed so much contact that Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown said James "could've played for the Browns."
That never stopped him from going at the basket. And it didn't stop James from taking control of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals with three aggressive drives to the basket that resulted in six consecutive points and a 93-86 win on Saturday.
"I was built for this," James said after tallying 32 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. "I'm not 6 [feet] 9, 260 pounds to shoot jumpers. I go to the hole and I create contact."
With his team trailing 84-82, James cut to the basket and Haywood fouled him while attempting a layup. James tied the game with two free throws, then put the Cavaliers ahead for good with a driving basket with 1 minute 38 seconds left. He secured the victory 43 seconds later when he blew past Stevenson and hit a floater over Haywood and Antawn Jamison.
"He took over," Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said. "There's really no answer for him."
DeShawn Stevenson attacked James verbally before the playoffs, calling him "overrated." But the Wizards decided to assault him physically on Saturday afternoon. James responded to contact by Blatche by popping him in the chin with an elbow the next time he saw him. James picked up a technical foul when he lifted himself into Haywood and the two shoved each other.
"He was standing above me, in a very disrespectful manner," James said of Haywood. "I didn't get rattled, but emotions ran over just a little bit."
The first time James was matched up against Stevenson in the game, he stared him down and Stevenson batted the ball away. James picked it up and shot a jumper over Stevenson that bounced off the rim and got stuck behind the basket support. He missed his first four shots and didn't get his first field goal until making a driving layup with 7:42 in the second period. James finally found his comfort zone about four minutes later when he and Cavaliers reserve Daniel "Boobie" Gibson connected on alley-oop dunk that took an incredible, full-extension catch and hammer by James to get the ball through the hoop.
"It was definitely an emotional, electrifying play for our team and our fans," James said with a laugh. "I told Boobie to just throw it anywhere and I'd go get it. He really took that literally. He really threw that ball somewhere I had to go get it."
James finished the game 12 of 19 from the floor. He attempted 14 free throws -- three fewer than the entire Wizards team. He made just eight, but perhaps would've made more if he hadn't missed all three free throw attempts that came while the crowd chanted "MVP! MVP!" James even asked for silence in the final minute before fans attempted to start the chant again. "I was just messing with them," he said.
James finally responded to Stevenson early in the third quarter.
He blew past Stevenson along the baseline, Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas tossed a perfect pass toward the rim and James dunked emphatically to give Cleveland a 53-50 lead. Afterward, he stared down Stevenson and waved his hand in front his face, mocking Stevenson's signature move.
"My play speaks. We're not the type of team that talks, but we're not going to back down, either," James said. "For me as an individual, I can't go out there and make it an individual challenge because that takes away from our team efforts and what we have at task. It's never going to be between me and DeShawn, it's going to be me and my team against Washington."
As he walked down the podium, James was asked if he is still growing, since he is listed at 6-8, 240. James smiled, put on his sunglasses and said, "I think that's why my back hurts."