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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Cavaliers and Wizards Work Overtime to Produce an Instant Classic

If you missed game five of the Cavaliers-Wizards series on Wednesday night, don't worry--it's probably already being shown on ESPN Classic. Cleveland won 121-120 in overtime after LeBron James scored a layup with less than a second left. James had a franchise playoff record 45 points, shooting 14-23 from the field and 17-18 from the free throw line. He also had seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. Washington's Gilbert Arenas finished with 44 points, five rebounds and four assists. Arenas has equaled or surpassed his previous game's scoring total each time in this series, putting up 26, 30, 34, 34 and 44 points in the five games (33.6 ppg), while James is on pace to score more in his first playoff series than everyone in NBA history except Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 32, 26, 41, 38 and 45 points (36.4 ppg).

So far, James has a triple double, two 40 point games--including a record 41 points in his first road playoff game--and two game winning shots. I still say that he shoots too many "Oh no--good shot" shots, but the amazing thing is that he makes most of them; you almost wonder if maybe the off-balance, fadeaway jumper is not a bad shot for him--but when you see him miss that kind of shot at the end of regulation and then score on a power move to the hoop to win the game in overtime you realize that when he stops settling for the fadeaway he may become completely unguardable. At one point when LeBron launched an off balance fadeaway I remarked to Mike Conley, who covers the Cavs for Cleveland.com, "That's a bad shot." The words were barely out of my mouth when the ball hit nothing but net. "I guess that's why we're up here watching and he's playing," I added, shaking my head.

Arenas and Antawn Jamison each had 20 points in the first half, but the Cavs led 52-51 behind James' 23 points and Larry Hughes' 11 points. The score was 63-62 Wizards when James was whistled for his fourth foul at the 6:53 mark in the third period. He sat out the remainder of the period, but Flip Murray scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting from the field in James' absence and the Cavaliers led 85-81 when James returned at the start of the fourth period. The third member of the Wizards' "Big Three," Caron Butler, was missing in action at the offensive end for the first three quarters (5 points, 2-9 shooting) but led the Wizards with 11 fourth quarter points as Washington came back from down 107-100 with 1:18 left in regulation to send the game to overtime. Butler had two baskets, an offensive rebound and a steal in the last 36.6 seconds of regulation.

One of the followers of Conley's webcast dubbed the extra session "Snow-vertime" after Eric Snow scored the Cavs' first six points in overtime. The Cavs led by as many as four, but Washington kept chipping away and when Arenas sank two free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining the Cavs seemed to be on the threshold of a devastating loss. After the game, James candidly admitted that losing at home after blowing a seven point lead with less than two minutes to go would have "sunk our ship."

Coach Mike Brown called a 20 second timeout and drew up a play in which all of his shooters would be lifted above the free throw line, giving James good passing angles if a double team came. James came off of a screen, Larry Hughes hit him with a great inbounds pass and, as James put it in his postgame comments, he "tightroped" the baseline and scored the winning basket. James quipped that if he wore a bigger shoe he would have stepped out of bounds but that he wears a size 16 so he was just able to make it through.

Jamison ended up with 32 points, Butler scored 20 points with 11 rebounds and five assists, Hughes had 24 points and Snow contributed 18 points on 8-12 field goal shooting.

I predicted this kind of drama in a recent article (Virtuoso Artists Kobe and LeBron Make the Playoffs a Joy to Watch ), writing, "Before the playoffs began I suggested that this series would return to Cleveland knotted at two, that James would have a tremendous Game 5 to lead Cleveland to victory and that the Cavs would close out the series in six in Washington."

After the game, Coach Brown said simply, "That was a hell of a ball game. It was unbelievable. It was tremendous to be a part of."

When Wizards' Coach Eddie Jordan spoke a few minutes later, someone asked if he is able to detach himself from the disappointment of losing the game to appreciate how special an event this was for NBA fans. He replied, "Right now, I'm not a fan. I'm a coach and it hurts to lose." Jordan expressed confidence that the Wizards would bounce back to win game six.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:50 AM

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