By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Wizards and Cavaliers Split Two at the Phone Booth, Series at 2-2
WASHINGTON, D.C.—It was all right there for the Washington Wizards. After putting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in check in Tuesday night’s game two victory, the series returned to the Verizon Center, where the Wizards played before a sell-out crowd of screaming fans.
“We need you. We can’t do it without you”, Wizards guard Antonio Daniels said to the fans immediately after the game two victory in Cleveland. And the fans responded. They still boo every time former Wizards Larry Hughes touches the ball, and started chants of “MVP” for All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas every time he went to the free throw line. By halftime of game three on Friday night, it looked as if the pundits were correct – that a team with a big three, Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison – would beat a team with a great one.
The Wizards shot over 55% in the first half to the Cavaliers 43%, and took an 8-point lead into the half, after being up by as many as 14. Then, as the Wizards so often do, they let Cleveland back into the game in the third quarter, and entered the fourth ties at 71-all, setting up for a frenzied, back and fourth final quarter that lived up to the billing of two All-Stars, Arenas and James, battling down to the end. The Wizards scored a scant 13 points in the third quarter to the Cavaliers 21, were outscored in the paint, and began settling for jumpers instead of diving to the lane.
The final minute was hold-your-breath time. James drove to the lane for what would be the game’s winning shot, while Arenas, with a chance at the win watched a good-look three pointer rim in and out. The Cavaliers took a 2-1 series lead with a 97-96 victory that literally took the air out of the phone booth, sending Wizards fans home in stunned silence, and giving home court back to Cleveland for game four on Sunday night.
“I didn’t execute. We didn’t execute. But I’m ready for whatever. I don’t go into a game thinking that people are going the give me hard fouls or not going to give me hard fouls. I just take it when it comes. I have no problem with hard foul. It’s part of the game”, James said prior to game three. Turns out, he needn’t have worried. James finished game three with a stellar 41 point performance.
“The series is awesome. I didn’t plan on coming in here sweeping the Wizards. They didn’t plan on sweeping us. It’s a chess match. It’s whoever makes the right adjustments. I think we have enough adjustments to win game three”, James added in his pre-game press conference. King James was correct.
“We’ve said all along we’ve got to not turn the ball over, we’ve got to keep them off the offensive glass, and we’ve got to get back in transition to not allow fast break points. We had a lot of great individual performances that lead to a great team performance by us”, said Cavaliers Head Coach Mike Brown. He was more effusive about his superstar forward.
“LeBron James is special. He’s a heckuva player. Excuse my French. He’s a helluva player, and I’m glad he’s on my side”, added Brown.
“We’re two all-stars (he and Arenas). We didn’t want to let our teams lose today. It was unfortunate that one team had to lose today, but I’m happy I’m on the winning side”, said James.
“I said I wasn’t going to have two bad games in a row. I watched game two over and over, and saw the adjustments they made on me from game one to game two, so me being the type of player that I am, I was able to counter the attack”, added James.
Wizards Head Coach Eddie Jordan was effusive as well after his team’s game three loss, particularly with regards to James final shot, which to many eyes was a traveling violation, and his team’s penchant for losing games in the minutes.
“We’ve had a whole lot of these games all year long. Seems like every loss was right at the buzzer, at the end, and they’re all heartbreakers”, Jordan said.
Game four Sunday night was more of the same for the Wizards – a slow, lack of energy start that saw James scoring 25 points in the first half to Arenas’ 6. Antawn Jamison had the hot hand to start, scoring 17 points, and keeping the Wizards in the game, down by 11 at the half. But the superstitious Arenas, who’s admitted to spending his halftimes playing internet poker, tried another tactic to get going in the second half. Changing his clothes.
“I changed my shoes, shorts, tights, jersey. I had to change everything. I had to get out of that first uniform. That first uniform was bad luck for me”, said a smiling Arenas after the game.
By the end of the third quarter, the score was tied at 72, with the Wizards holding James scoreless in the period. It proved to be a tale of two halves – a tale of two all-stars, just as James himself said after the Cavs game three victory. But if the first half belonged to James, the second half belonged to Arenas, who scored 20 of his team high 34 in the second half. James managed only 13 points in the final period for a total of 38, but the Wizards managed to frustrate James just enough to, as James put it, ‘take away his aggressiveness’.
“We wanted to be true to our game plan”, said Wizards Head Coach Eddie Jordan, who employed a rather unusual strategy for the second half. He called no plays for his team.
“I just said listen guys, just loosen up a little bit, lets have some fun. I’m not going to call any plays to start the half. You know how to play. You can play out our concepts, our principles, but I’m not going to call anything, and that’s how we got it going”, added Jordan.
That, and the pressure of playing from behind. The Wizards, who are notorious for being unable to hold onto a lead, seem to thrive on the pressure.
“We play like crap when we have a lead. We just can’t stand prosperity. But we’re resilient. We attack when we’re behind”, Jordan commented.
To those who had concerns that Arenas might turn this series into a Gilbert vs. LeBron show, Arenas was having none of that.
“This is the Cavs vs. the Wizards. With this team, we have to actually beat them. It can’t be a close game, it can’t be by decision, it can’t be on referees to make calls. We have to actually beat them for us to win the series”, he added. But the jovial Arenas couldn’t resist taking a playful swipe at the LeBron hype.
“This is LeBron’s show. We’re just all witnesses”, he said, referring to James’ Nike ad campaign, cracking up a room full of reporters.
It’s now a best of three, with the series shifting to Cleveland for game five on Wednesday. No doubt Arenas will take along multiple wardrobe changes.