Cavaliers Outlast Wizards, 97-82The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the injury depleted Washington Wizards 97-82 at Quicken Loans Arena in game one of their first round playoff series--but the biggest news is not the final score but how close the Cavaliers came to also being injury depleted. LeBron James sprained his left ankle with 8:03 remaining in the third quarter. He writhed in pain on the court for a few moments while the sellout crowd of 20,562 held their collective breath but he did not come out of the game. James finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Cleveland also got a strong effort from Larry Hughes, who had 27 points and seven rebounds. Antawn Jamison led the Wizards with 28 points and 14 rebounds but he shot just 10-27 from the field and could not make up for the absence of injured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Playing shorthanded--and without Arenas to push the ball--the Wizards generated just one fast break point while yielding 21 to the Cavaliers.
Cleveland jumped out to a quick 11-4 lead, prompting an early Wizards timeout, but the Cavaliers were not able to put Washington away. The margin bounced between five and seven points for most of the first quarter and the Cavaliers led 27-20 at the end of the period. James had nine points on 4-4 shooting and four assists, while Jamison had seven points on 3-8 shooting. The Cavaliers briefly had a 10 point lead in the second quarter but were not able to build on that and still led by seven at halftime, 48-41. James shot 0-4 in the second quarter, but Hughes picked up the slack with 10 points.
The Wizards got to within two points early in the third quarter before James made a strong drive to the hoop, scoring over Etan Thomas and drawing a foul. James landed on Thomas' foot and twisted his left ankle very badly. He did not stand up for a while and when he did he very noticeably favored the injury. James missed his free throw and did not attempt a shot from the field for almost five minutes, though he did grab two rebounds. Hughes scored nine points in the quarter and James added four points after the injury--two on free throws and two on a layup--to finish the period with 10 points, but the Wizards were still only down seven points, 74-67.
In the fourth quarter, the Wizards unraveled because of turnovers and poor shot selection, managing just 15 points on 5-20 shooting. The Cavaliers extended their lead to 10, 80-70, at the 9:01 mark and led by at least that much the rest of the way. Jamison, perhaps fatigued by the heavier than normal workload, shot just 1-7 from the field. James shot 1-4, but the Cavaliers rode Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who tallied 11 of his 16 points in the final stanza.
It remains to be seen how serious James' ankle injury is. He had no dunks or high-flying moves after it happened, but his mobility did seem to increase near the end of the game. Of course, there is still the possibility that the ankle will swell up and become stiff overnight. "It's definitely going to hurt a lot tomorrow, I know," James said during his postgame interview session. "This is not my first time having an ankle sprain by stepping on someone's foot, so I know that when I go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow it's definitely going to hurt. The best thing about it is we don't play until Wednesday, so I get enough time to get a little bit of rest and see how it feels. I had no intention of not coming back (to finish the game after the initial injury). In the first game of the playoffs, you have to set the tone and if I was able to limp on it I was going to be in there."
James was incredulous at the suggestion by one reporter that he had had a "subpar game," replying, "I thought that my numbers were pretty good--23, nine and seven, with one turnover...the most important thing is that we got the win. That's all that matters."
In his postgame standup, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said, "I want to compliment my guys for working hard and doing the things that we wanted them to do. We just didn't put the ball in the basket...but our effort was great and our intent was great." Washington shot just 29-79 from the field (.367). Asked how much the Cavaliers' defense had to do with Washington's shooting, Jordan chose his words carefully, not wanting to slight the Cavaliers but also wanting his players to maintain the belief that they will be able to shoot better in the upcoming games: "They're a good defensive team. I felt we missed some open shots. I thought that we worked hard enough and executed well enough to get some open shots...when it was time to make plays, we missed a layup--their defense was good but we have to finish the plays. Whether it was good defense or great defense, we have to find a way to make an open shot. That's all."
Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown started his postgame remarks by praising the Wizards' resiliency: "Washington came out and did a nice job in the first three quarters and going into the fourth. We got a little lucky and we were able to put together a run in the fourth quarter to cause some separation, so the score is a little deceptive. It was a tighter game than what the final turned out to be. Give Eddie Jordan and his group credit for playing the way that they did." Brwwn added that he is pleased with the Cavaliers' defense and knows that Jamison is going to score "because that is what he does."
Since Jamison's team has been decimated by injuries, a reporter asked him what went through his mind when James got injured. Jamison replied, "Nothing, really. I didn't think it was that serious. He was down there for a while but I thought that eventually he would get back up. I was just questioning the (foul) call but I got a good explanation from the referee. I didn't think that it was a serious injury at all."
Notes From Courtside:
In his pregame standup, Cleveland Coach Mike Brown talked about his first experience in the NBA playoffs: being the video coordinator for the eighth seeded Denver Nuggets in 1994 when they upset the first seeded Seattle SuperSonics, one of only two 1-8 upsets in NBA history. Cleveland-Washington is a 2-7 matchup, so Brown is in almost the opposite situation now. I asked him what he learned from being part of that Denver team that he can use to help the Cavaliers avoid a similar fate. Coach Brown replied, "Real simple: it's not over until the final buzzer goes off from a game four win. It doesn't matter if we start 2-0 or 0-2. Especially if we start 2-0, people are going to start talking and making noise about a sweep or this and that--if you believe that, you're in the wrong business. Those guys are NBA players and those guys want to win. It would make their season, with the two injuries they've had, to come in here and win this first round."
Arenas was in uniform prior to the game--but only to come on the court and shoot set shots from the right baseline. He did not jump at all or pursue the ball after he released it. Several Cavaliers came up to talk to him, including Eric Snow. By game time, Arenas was wearing a suit and seated behind the Wizards' bench. He will not be able to play in this series--but word out of Washington is that Butler will have the cast taken off of his broken hand soon and that he may play as early as game three.
John Thompson did the color commentary for TNT's broadcast of the game. When he walked on to the court about 90 minutes before tip-off to prepare for the telecast, a fan screamed out his name and asked for an autograph and to have his picture taken with the man who led Georgetown to the 1984 NCAA Championship. Thompson jokingly refused at first, but then signed the item that the fan had brought to the game and posed for a picture with him as well.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:52 PM