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Wizards and Cavaliers Even Up Their Series at 1-1
WASHINGTON, D.C.—There’s rarely a clear favorite to win a 4 versus 5 matchup in the NBA Playoffs. Still, the lack of playoff experience on the part of MVP candidate LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and rookie head coach Mike Brown, had a lot of pundits picking the Washington Wizards to take this series. The Wizards, who are not exactly playoff vets themselves, but who have made it to the postseason in back to back years for the first time since 1988, went into Cleveland on Saturday afternoon ready to face James and the Cavs.
Or, perhaps not.
Saturday’s game one victory by Cleveland was a complete domination by the Cavaliers, and a coronation for King James, who recorded a triple double in his first ever playoff game, bringing about the inevitable the comparisons to Magic Johnson. James recorded 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Cavaliers picked the Wizards apart. The Wizards big three of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison managed to score just 48 points between them, turning in a flat performance all around, as the Cavaliers took game one by a score of 97-86.
After Saturday’s lackluster performance, the Wizards flew home to the safety of the Verizon Center, no doubt hoping to regroup before game two. A two hour practice session was held on Sunday that was by all reports one of the toughest they’ve had all year long. The strategy appears to have worked.
The Wizards won’t win any awards for their efforts on defense this past season, but Head Coach Eddie Jordan’s club showed up for game two with a new attitude, and a defensive intensity rarely seen by this group for Tuesday night’s contest. That was made clear in the first quarter on a play when James drove to the basket and was fouled hard by Brendon Haywood. Yes, that Brendan Haywood, who’s been in and out of coach Jordan’s doghouse this season for an apparent lack of hustle and effort on the defensive end. But on this night, Haywood was having none it and neither were the rest of his teammates. It was a play that sparked an 18-0 run for the Wizards, and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game, which the Wizards took by a score of 89 to 84.
“It’s a war. We wanted to give them hell”, said Wizards Head Coach Eddie Jordan, who had to be pleased with the performance of the big three, who scored 72 points between them in game two.
“ We’re confident. We have the home court advantage now. It’s going to be a fun series”, said Wizards All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas, who led all scorers with 30 points.
“Some of us have been knocked on our tails all year long. It’s playoff basketball. That’s what you do”, said Wizards guard Antonio Daniels.
As for James, his stat line looked a lot different in this contest. James finished game two with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists, but posted a career high 10 turnovers.
“The Wizards did a great job bouncing back from game one”, James said, making a tongue in cheek remark that he almost got a second triple double, alluding to his 10 turnovers.
The series now moves to Verizon Center for games three and four on Friday night and Sunday night. Arenas is right. This should be fun.