West Sends His Home City Reeling
Monday, April 28, 2008
More than 20,000 fans were on their feet, and five Washington Wizard defenders were on their heels, waiting to see what LeBron James would do with the ball in his hands and 28 seconds remaining.
"All eyes was on him," Cleveland Cavaliers guard Delonte West said of James.
West's eyes were locked in on James as well, but he was looking for a different reason. He was making eye contact, to be ready if and when his man decided to double-team James and leave him open. Once James drove into the defense and Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas lunged toward him, West gathered himself in the right corner and caught the pass from James.
At that moment, West's eyes focused on the rim.
Then, more than 20,000 fans and five Wizard defenders watched his three-point shot splash through the net with 5.4 seconds left to give the Cavaliers a 100-97 victory and a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.
"It's big, first and foremost, that we got the win," said West, an Eleanor Roosevelt product who finished with a playoff career-high 21 points. "It always feels good to come back to where I grew up playing. I played on this floor as a high school player, dreaming of getting to this point. It feels good to get to this point, and it feels good to do it for my Momma and all of my family."
West also defended Arenas on his final desperate shot, stepping in enough to force Arenas to take a difficult three-pointer -- but he avoided committing the foul.
West said he never felt conflicted about beating his hometown team, especially since he grew up as a fan of the Chicago Bulls. Now West will join James and Damon Jones on the list of players who have provided postseason heartache for the Wizards at Verizon Center.
"I think Washington definitely probably had a flashback," James said, when asked about Jones's long jumper with 4.8 seconds to play that eliminated the Wizards in Game 6 two years ago. "We've hit some big shots in this building. Damon hitting a big shot to close out the series. Then you've got Delonte who knocks down a big shot today in front of his home town."
West, who is back in the playoffs after a two-year hiatus, wasn't ready to proclaim it as the biggest shot of his career. "I think it has to be up there, as far as hitting a shot to win a basketball game," West said.
The Wizards' plan to neutralize James (34 points) and get the ball out of his hands in the fourth quarter worked, as James went 0 for 3 from the field and finished with just three points in the final period.
But West and reserve guard Daniel Gibson were able to make the Wizards pay by consistently hitting shots. West and Gibson combined to shoot 5 of 9 from beyond the three-point line and accounted for 15 of the Cavaliers' 20 points in the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers made 13 of their 28 three-point attempts (46.4 percent) after missing 14 of their 16 attempts in Game 3. "In Game 3, we didn't bring our A-game. We didn't come prepared to knock down shots," said Gibson, who finished with 12 points on four three-pointers. "I felt like if we got the same opportunities, we were going to knock them down, and we did."
West spent the early part of the fourth period camped out in the left corner in front of the Wizards' bench. He took two passes from Gibson and nailed open three-pointers. The first gave the Cavaliers a five-point lead, the second put them ahead 88-82. Both of Gibson's fourth-quarter three-pointers extended the Cavaliers' lead to six points -- the last one giving his team a 97-91 lead with 3 minutes 13 seconds remaining.
"We are tough to guard because you have to put a lot of guys on LeBron," Gibson said. "He is going to find the open guy so you have to be prepared to knock it down."
James finished with a game-high seven assists. "I think sometimes guys forget that he has great court vision, and he made the right play," West said. "That's what makes him a great player. He could have risen up and took a great shot, but he made the simple play and found me wide open in the corner."
And now the Wizards are on the edge of elimination.