By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Despite LeBron James's assertion that the Wizards can't come back from a 3-1 deficit and win their first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington guard Gilbert Arenas and his teammates will show up for Game 5 tomorrow night anyway.
"We're up for the challenge," said Arenas, who has been slowed by a left knee injury throughout the series but has no intention of sitting out a game now. "We gotta keep our cool. When we get down there, it's going to be hostile because they are going to think the series is won. That's the advantage we gotta use. We have to stick together and go play hard."
The Wizards have lost eight consecutive games at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, regular and postseason, and history has not been kind to teams in the kind of hole Washington fell into with Sunday's 100-97 loss in Game 4 at Verizon Center.
Only eight of 174 teams that have been down 3-1 in a best-of-seven NBA series have come back to win.
The goal now is to steal one in Cleveland and get the series back home, where the Wizards blew the Cavaliers off the court 108-72 in Game 3 and played competitive basketball on Sunday until Arenas missed a potential game-tying three-pointer as time expired.
"We're upbeat," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We feel good about ourselves. It was a tough loss, and it hurts, but we all knew that for us to win the series, we had to win a game in Cleveland. It's as simple as that. We have to win a game in Cleveland and we're very upbeat."
The series has featured physical play by both sides, seven technical fouls, a made-up rivalry between rap artists and all kinds of good quotes, such as the one James offered following Sunday's victory when he was asked whether the Wizards stood a chance of coming back and making a series of it.
"No," James replied.
But from a pure basketball perspective, the Cavaliers have been superior. James is averaging 29.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists while shooting 51.2 percent, and he made key plays to decide the two most competitive games in the series.
In Cleveland's 93-86 victory in Game 1, James took advantage of Washington's fourth-quarter shooting slump by scoring two key baskets on drives late in the game. And on Sunday, James did not manage a made field goal in a tense fourth quarter but set up Delonte West for the game-winning three-pointer by drawing the defense before passing out to West, who was open in the corner with 5.4 seconds remaining.
Dating from Cleveland's 4-2 first-round series victory in 2006, James has either made a game-deciding shot or made a pass that led to a game-deciding shot five times to beat the Wizards in the playoffs.
In the 2006 series, James made shots to decide Games 3 and 5 and made a pass that led to Damon Jones's series-clinching jump shot in Game 6. Last year, in a series Cleveland won 4-0, James passed to Sasha Pavlovic, and Pavlovic made the shot that decided Game 3. And during the current series, James made two crucial shots late in Game 1 and set up West for the game-winner Sunday.
James's dominance and Cleveland's string of success against the Wizards, especially at home, has created the perception that the series was essentially decided the moment Arenas missed that three-pointer on the game's final possession Sunday.
Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr. doesn't agree.
"At this point, no one is giving us a chance, but we can rally together and remember how we've gotten our wins," Mason said. "When we play team basketball and defend for the whole game and rebound, we're a pretty good team. So, we feel like we have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
The Wizards have beaten the Cavaliers three times in the playoffs since 2006, and none of those games were decided on the final possession. So perhaps Washington's best chance is to not allow Game 5 to come down to a situation where James has the ball in his hands with a chance to decide the outcome.
Then again, that is easier said than done.
"It's hard to blow teams out in the playoffs," Arenas said. "They did it to us and we did it to them, but I don't think there's going to be another blowout. We've got to just go up there and win. We've got to play well and we've got to get stops."