Pushed to the Brink
Monday, April 28, 2008
The Cleveland Cavaliers have not eliminated the Washington Wizards from the playoffs for the third straight season yet. But to hear LeBron James tell it, the first-round series is as good as over after the Cavaliers took a 3-1 lead with a 100-97 victory at Verizon Center yesterday.
"Do I think they can do it?" James responded when asked about the possibility of a Wizards comeback. "No."
James's assessment of Washington's chances was nearly as coldhearted as the game-deciding three-pointer Cavaliers guard Delonte West made with 5.4 seconds remaining. The play started with the ball in James's hands at the top of the circle.
He took two dribbles to his left, was cut off by Gilbert Arenas and zipped the ball to the corner, where West, an Eleanor Roosevelt High School product, calmly drained a 24-foot shot over Arenas and the late-arriving Antawn Jamison, who was supposed to rotate to the corner.
Arenas had a chance to force overtime but missed a contested three-point shot over West with less than a second remaining.
Game 5 is Wednesday night at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, where the Wizards have lost four consecutive playoff games. As if that isn't daunting enough, consider that only eight of 174 teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to capture a best-of-seven NBA playoff series.
"We are going to have to win," said Arenas, who finished with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting in 32 minutes of action. "It isn't anything about confidence. We have to go back there so we can bring it back here."
The three-pointer West made and the three Arenas missed were the key plays in Game 4, but accurate three-point shooting and dominance on the offensive glass put the Cavaliers in position to win.
Cleveland connected on 13 of 28 threes, outrebounded the Wizards 51-31 and held a 20-6 advantage in second-chance points.
"It seemed like every rebound they got, they converted on," said Jamison, who finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds, but had his hands full trying to box out Cavaliers big men such as Ben Wallace, Joe Smith and Anderson Varejao. "It's definitely hard to be down and make a run when you keep giving them second-chance opportunities."
One possession from the end of the third quarter perfectly illustrated Washington's rebounding issues. The Cavaliers led 77-73 in the closing seconds when James missed a three-pointer. However, Smith hustled for the rebound and made a four-foot shot to beat the buzzer while drawing a foul on Darius Songaila.
Smith made the free throw and Cleveland carried a seven-point lead as well as valuable momentum into the fourth quarter. The big push was sparked in part by a flagrant foul Wizards' guard DeShawn Stevenson committed on James with 3:25 left in the half as the Cavaliers made a 23-5 run to close out the second quarter and take a 10-point lead.