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'Tough' Love

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Members of the Washington Wizards discuss their 88-87 victory over Cleveland in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Video by Dan Steinberg/The Washington PostEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com

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By Mike Wise
Thursday, May 1, 2008

CLEVELAND

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From the visitors' locker room came a chant, impromptu, rumbling beneath the Quicken Loans Arena stands, growing louder with each refrain.

"TOUGH JUICE! TOUGH JUICE! TOUGH JUICE!"

Caron Butler's teammates kept bounding up and down without him, chanting the nickname bestowed upon the Wizards' all-star three years ago by his coach, Eddie Jordan, who had grown tired of coaching soft players who couldn't finish games.

When Butler was finished with his TNT interview on Wednesday night -- when he was finished stealing Game 5 from LeBron James, hitting that rugged bank shot in traffic that rolled in with 3.9 seconds left and sucked every drop of enthusiasm out of the Q -- he ran down an almost-empty corridor.

After the most implausible victory of this Wizards era, he flexed his pectorals and screamed:

"D.C., STAND UP!! D.C., STAND UP!!"

One stubborn soul brought them home for Game 6, one franchise-player-in-waiting who on Tuesday afternoon, before the team boarded a flight to leave, hugged Abe Pollin, the team's 84-year-old ailing patriarch, after Butler and his teammates were asked to reward the owner with a victory.

"This was for Mr. Pollin," Butler said, moments after the Wizards had somehow erased a five-point Cleveland lead with 65 seconds left, winning on the Cavaliers' floor for the first time in two years. He scored 32 points, grabbed nine rebounds, had five assists and one of the zaniest, most improvisational shots in the first half -- catching his own ricocheted attempt and throwing up a running 14-foot hook that amazingly swished through. He played all but three minutes of what was sure to be Washington's last game of the season.

Until Caron outplayed LeBron, until the Wizards somehow extended their expiration date past April for the first time in two years.

"I didn't want my season to end like that and C.B. wouldn't let it end," Brendan Haywood said. "Caron was unbelievable. I've never seem him that intense. He wouldn't let us lose."


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