A Cleveland Blockade
Saturday, May 3, 2008
After the Washington Wizards were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year, Gilbert Arenas bemoaned how star-crossed the team is. "Look at the Kobes and LeBrons, they never have injuries in the playoffs. The Tim Duncans, they always find a way. I guess we just don't have that kind of luck."
Cleveland might call it fortitude.
Not even a white-clad, screaming, LeBron James-hating, sold-out Verizon Center could influence last night's result, a 105-88 blowout in Game 6 that gave the Cavaliers a 4-2 series victory.
Two nights after Caron Butler gave the Wizards hope by making a game-winning running layup with 3.9 seconds left in Game 5, the Cavaliers overcame a hot start by the Wizards with a 15-0 second-quarter run and were never seriously threatened in the second half.
With the Cavaliers in control in the final minutes, Coach Eddie Jordan pulled his starters, giving all-stars Butler and Antawn Jamison plenty of time to sit on the bench next to the injured Arenas and ponder yet another early exit.
The Wizards haven't reached the second round since 2005, when they were swept by the Miami Heat. The team shook off that disappointment quickly, believing that long playoff runs and perhaps a championship was within reach.
"You never imagine it," said Jamison, who finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds. "You never sit there and say, 'We're not going to get back to the second round the next three years and we're going to get beat by the same team.' It's tough. Last year was difficult with the injuries and this year was up-and-down, but in my eyes, we still had enough to get past where we're at. It's hard to swallow because as a team, you know you are better than what you have shown."
James definitively proved that he's not overrated by capping a spectacular series with a triple-double (27 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds) and the Cavaliers improved to 12-4 against the Wizards in the playoffs since the teams played a thrilling six-game series in 2006.
James capped his game in appropriate fashion making a three-pointer over DeShawn Stevenson, who called James "overrated" after a game between the teams on March 13.
After the game, James declined an opportunity to take a verbal shot at Stevenson, the Wizards or their frustrated fans, who let him hear it during the three games at Verizon Center.
"Cleveland is advancing," James said. "We won the series 4-2 and that speaks louder than me saying anything about the fans here, anything about DeShawn Stevenson. Cleveland is advancing. That's all that matters."
James received plenty of help from Wally Szczerbiak (26 points on 9-of-18 shooting) and Daniel Gibson (22 points on 9-of-14 shooting). The Cavaliers shot 49.4 percent as a team and used crisp ball movement to rack up 29 assists. The Wizards shot 39.7 percent and finished with 11 assists, two fewer than James.
The Wizards led by eight late in the first quarter and carried a 31-27 edge in the second, but Cleveland seized control late in the first half with a run that James sparked by making a layup and then drilling a three-pointer. Once the Wizards started keying on him, James began probing the defense and whipping the ball to open teammates. On several possessions, the Cavaliers made the Wizards pay for overloading one side of the floor with quick ball movement that led directly to open shots.
Gibson, who scored 13 second-quarter points on 5-of-8 shooting, was a prime recipient.
Things began to go wrong for the Wizards approximately six hours before tip-off when the team learned that forward Darius Songaila would be suspended for hitting James in the face after the two became tangled during the first quarter of Game 5.
Not having Songaila left the Wizards short-handed in the front court but the loss could hardly be pinned on the absence of a player who averaged 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in the first five games.
No, the Cavaliers proved they were the better team, leaving the Wizards and their fans to once again ponder what might have been had Arenas been healthy.
As Arenas left the floor, one fan shouted: "Don't worry Gilbert, we'll beat them next year!"
"I felt it was a very successful season," Jordan said. "In the history of time in the NBA, if it is true that you have to take your lumps and your beatings before you can make the next jump in the playoffs, then certainly we are on the brink of that."