PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; series tied 2-2.
Officiating complaints by the opposing coaches in the first-round playoff series between the Washington Wizards and the Cleveland Cavaliers are beginning to overshadow the one-on-one battle between Gilbert Arenas and LeBron James.
Both teams look to get the better of the calls—and take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series—when they meet in Cleveland.
James scored 41 points in the Cavaliers’ 97-96 win in Game 3 on Friday night, causing Washington coach Eddie Jordan to say after the game the star forward received the benefit of the doubt from the referees.
The calls seemed to turn the other way in Game 4, as James was whistled for four offensive fouls in the Wizards’ 106-96 win on Sunday.
“Oh, yeah, it paid dividends,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said of Jordan’s claims.
“Gilbert’s a great player,” Brown said. “I don’t know what to tell our guys to do in terms of calls, but for him to go to the free-throw line 17 times and LeBron to go seven times, whatever they said obviously worked. We get called for 34 fouls. They get called for 21 fouls. They shoot 40 free throws; we shoot 25 free throws. It’s tough to overcome.”
James had 38 points on Sunday and is averaging 34.3 for the series, but the Wizards scored 13 more points at the free-throw line, allowing them to even the series despite shooting only 42 percent from the field.
Arenas, averaging 31.0 points in the series, scored 34 on Sunday and has outscored James 40-29 at the free-throw line.
“If LeBron gets calls, then Gil should get calls,” Wizards guard Jared Jeffries said. “He’s one of the top four or five players in the league this year, so he should get those calls.”
The series has gone back and forth, with neither team able to win two straight games. Cleveland shot 50 percent in Game 4, but was called for 34 fouls and committed 23 turnovers, its highest totals of the season.
“Out of our 22 (23) turnovers, I’d probably say 10 to 12 were offensive fouls,” said James, who finished with five fouls. “Questionable calls, but we have to live with it.
“I’ve been called for more offensive fouls in this series than all 82 games combined, probably. I don’t know if they’re trying to take my aggressiveness away, make me play outside.”
James set franchise playoff records for points in a quarter (18) and half (25) in Sunday’s loss. While he was scoreless in the third quarter and had 13 in the fourth, Arenas again stepped up to give his team a victory by scoring 20 points in the final period.
“It’ll be a chess match between the coaches to try and get referees on their side,” Arenas said. “LeBron said, ‘Yeah, your coach is complaining. That’s what he did.’ So I go back over there and said, ‘I see your coach is complaining.’ It’s a chess match and players have to adjust to what’s going on out there with the referees.”
Historically, both teams have struggled in Game 5s. The Wizards are 3-18 all-time while Cleveland is 2-6, with one of the wins coming against Washington in the 1976 conference semifinals.
Game 6 is Friday in Washington.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Wizards - 5th seed. Cavaliers - 4th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Wizards - Arenas, 31.0 ppg and 4.3 apg; Jamison, 8.5 rpg. Cavaliers - James, 34.3 ppg and 5.3 apg; Gooden, 10.5 rpg.