West Is a Factor in the East

The Washington Post's Michael Lee looks back on the Wizards' 93-86 loss to Cleveland in Game 1 and previews Game 2 Monday night. Video by Audio: Michael Lee/The Washington PostEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.comPhotos: Preston Keres/The Washington Post, AP, Getty
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 21, 2008

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, April 20 -- Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Delonte West started backpedaling as Gilbert Arenas dribbled the ball over half court near the end of the first period Saturday afternoon. West knew the clock was winding down, and was preparing for Arenas to sprint up the floor and try to get at the basket for a foul. He wasn't ready for Arenas to stop, pull up and drain a jump shot -- from 35 feet.

"I had no idea what he was doing," West said. "He stepped over halfcourt and let it fly. With Gil anything is possible."

That was the last time West gave Arenas space, and his defense on the Wizards' sixth man -- especially in the final four minutes -- contributed greatly to Cleveland's 93-86 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-seven playoff series. Arenas, playing just his sixth game since returning from knee surgery, scored 24 points but missed his last four shots with West defending -- West blocked one and another didn't even hit the rim.

Arenas blamed fatigue for his fourth-quarter fade, but Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown gave credit to the relentless play of West. "Delonte is a fighter," Brown said. "He's not going to back down from anybody."

West didn't have a great shooting night, but he hit a clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter and finished with playoff career highs in points (16), rebounds (five), assists (five) and blocked shots (two), with both blocks against Arenas. "I take it a little more personal in terms of trying to limit his touches and shots in the fourth quarter," West said. "I feel like that gives us a better chance to win."

West, a District native and a product of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, said he didn't have a problem with the fact that his success came against his hometown team. He added that his family and friends from the area are not conflicted at this time of the season.

"They root for Cleveland. They root for me," West said, smiling. "Wherever I'm at, they're with me."

West, 24, said he was a Chicago Bulls fan growing up, but he also followed the Bullets/Wizards, with a particular fondness for Michael Adams and Chris Webber. He also provided help in his own special way. "Yeah, my mother used to work at the front desk of the hotel by the Capital Centre, where all the players used to stay," West said. "We were just little neighborhood kids, messing around with the guys coming in. I used to throw my basketball at their bus. We might have been the cause for my mom to get fired from her job."

Before his mother, Delphina Addison, lost her job at the hotel, West said he would often get tickets to games at the Capital Centre, which was less than a mile from his apartment. "I remember my first time seeing [7-foot-7, 300-pound] Gheorghe Muresan," West said. "It scared me to death."

West is in the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season three years ago, as a member of the Boston Celtics. "We were playing Indiana, right before Reggie Miller retired. I got a good taste of the jump shot he got," West said.

But West didn't come close to getting a taste of the playoffs the next two seasons, as Boston won 33, then 24 games. He was traded in a draft-day deal to the Seattle SuperSonics, where the team was at the bottom of the Western Conference and he was yanked in and out of the rotation, making five starts while not playing at all on 10 occasions.

West was the least-heralded player Cleveland acquired in a three-team, 11-player trade Feb. 22, but he has been the most consistent contributor. He has started 27 games, including the playoffs, and is averaging 10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists. The opportunity came at the best time, with West eligible to become a restricted free agent this summer.

"I haven't thought much further than winning games. You can't consume yourself with that, though, at this point in the season," West said. "To compete for a championship, that's why you play this game. It also makes you embrace a situation like this that much more, makes you want to kind of stay in a situation like this.

"I've been itching to get back to the postseason," West said. "I went through a couple of tough situations to get here. My mom always said, 'The Lord's got to bring you through it to bring you through it.' And I'm here, it's up to me what I do with it."

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