By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
CLEVELAND, April 21 -- It took 30 games for Ben Wallace to let out his Afro and let people know that he still has enough left to make a vicious, two-handed reverse dunk. Thirty games for Wally Szczerbiak to find his comfort zone playing alongside LeBron James and finally hit some open looks. Thirty games for James to have that usual, heroic, LeBron James effort -- 30 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds -- and have the game decided before the fourth quarter.
The first 29 games after Cleveland General Manager Danny Ferry made the trade for Wallace, Szczerbiak, Joe Smith and Delonte West, the Cavaliers' play ranged from decent to eyesore. But in Game 2 of this best-of-seven series against the Washington Wizards, the new-look Cavaliers had their most aesthetically pleasing effort together.
"I felt like it was a matter of time before everybody figured out where we wanted to be defensively, where we wanted to be offensively," Cavaliers reserve Daniel Gibson said after Cleveland took a 2-0 lead with a commanding 116-86 victory on Monday night. "Tonight was one of those nights we played well as a unit and we had fun. Everything just felt well out there on the floor. It was great to see it happen at this point."
Nothing from the Cavaliers' final 28 games of the regular season -- or Game 1 of this series -- indicated they were capable of the clinic they put on for the final 30 minutes of the game, when they outscored the Wizards 80-50.
The Cavaliers were tied at 36 with 6 minutes 22 seconds left in the second quarter, but they recorded their largest playoff victory in franchise history, surpassing a 27-point win against Philadelphia on May 1, 1990. The 116 points also were the most Cleveland has scored in a regulation playoff game in 16 years.
"It's always good to get a game like this, where you can enjoy the game a little bit instead of having to fight possession for possession and it always comes down to the wire," Smith said. "Fortunately, we were able to build a lead and maintain that lead throughout the entire game."
Wallace was brought from Chicago to provide toughness and defense, but his ailing back made him look old and decrepit. That wasn't the case on Monday as Wallace was energized from the beginning. He took a pass from James in the first quarter and exploded toward the basket for a rim-rocking slam dunk.
Wallace finished with eight points, seven rebounds and one block and helped limit Wizards forward Antawn Jamison to just nine points on 4-of-13 shooting. "Our defense was good from the beginning," Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown said. "Ben was great setting the tone for us on that end of the floor."
Szczerbiak was supposed to provide perimeter shooting, but he had struggled hitting shots as Brown shuffled his playing rotation. He was inserted into the starting lineup after Sasha Pavlovic was lost for the season with a sprained right ankle.
After shooting 2 of 10 in Game 1, Szczerbiak shot 6 of 9 for 15 points, with four coming during a game-changing 17-4 run near the end of the second quarter.
Szczerbiak, never noted for his defense, also helped hold Caron Butler to 12 points on 13 shots. "I've been saying it all along since I got here. It's almost like we've played to be close at the end of the game and have LeBron bail us out -- which he is very capable of doing," Szczerbiak said. "But as a team, we are capable of coming in waves. We're capable of wins like this."
The newcomers weren't the only ones to make a difference. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (16 points, nine rebounds), Gibson (13 points), and Anderson Varejao (seven points, eight rebounds) -- three members of the team that advanced to the NBA Finals last season -- also helped turn James into a cheerleader at a time when he's usually biting his nails.
"Just the magnitude of this game and the way we approached the game was amazing," James said.