Steve Kerr: This is LeBron’s time to shine
CLEVELAND (AP)—LeBron James had an NBA playoff debut that was simply Magical.
Showcasing his spectacular skills as a pro in the postseason for the first time, James recorded a triple-double and brought the Cleveland Cavaliers back to the playoffs in style with a 97-86 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday.
James finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, becoming the first player since Magic Johnson to post a triple-double in his first playoff game.
“It’s a great class to be in,” James said.
If Game 1 of his playoff resume was any indication, James may one day be in a class by himself.
Over 48 minutes, the 21-year-old, who is battling a cold, did a little of everything to help the Cavaliers land the first blow in what could be a lengthy series between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds in the Eastern Conference.
As always, the pregame hype centered around James, who barely missed the playoffs in his first two seasons. He hadn’t been in such a pressure-packed game since he was a high school senior, and many wondered if he could handle the pressure.
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“He’s played on big stages his whole life,” Cavs forward Drew Gooden said. “It’s expected of him.”
James is just the third player in history to get a triple-double in his playoff debut. Johnson (13 points, 12 rebounds and 16 assists) did it for the Los Angeles Lakers on April 8, 1980, and Johnny McCarthy (13 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) had one for St. Louis on March 16, 1960.
“Nothing he does surprises me anymore,” Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “He’s just a terrific player. He’s a tremendous luxury to have, knowing he can go out there any time and put up numbers like that.”
Cleveland’s first game back in the playoffs since 1998—when James was a seventh grader—couldn’t have gone much better.
James got plenty of help from his supporting cast as Donyell Marshall added 19 points, Eric Snow 14 and Ilgauskas and Flip Murray 10 apiece for the Cavs. Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Wizards have some work to do before then. Not only do they have to rethink their defensive strategy on James, who threw over or drove around double teams, but Washington needs to work on its free-throw and 3-point shooting.
The Wizards were only 25-of-36 from the 15-foot line and just 3-of-22 from long range.
Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, Washington’s usually reliable offensive trio that came in averaging 67.4 points combined, scored 48 as Cleveland’s defense made it tough for any of them to get a good look at the basket.
“What hurt me most was my team not playing the way we are supposed to play,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “They did. We didn’t.”
Arenas led Washington with 26 points, but he got 17 of them in the fourth quarter when the Cavs were already up by double digits. Arenas fouled out with 49 seconds left when he hacked Snow, who used his thumb to show Washington’s guard the way back to the bench.
James got his 10th rebound with 22 seconds to go, prompting Cavs fans into another chorus of “M-V-P! M-V-P!,” a chant they started early in the game when Cleveland’s superstar helped an official corral a stray balloon floating near the floor.
“I was going to let the ref get it, but figured that if I grabbed it, maybe he’d give me a few more calls,” James joked.
Cleveland was up by 14 at halftime, and James helped push the Cavs’ advantage to 17 after three with a memorable assist to Murray. Driving the lane, James went into the air, turned his head to the right and delivered a left-handed scoop underneath to Murray, whose layup made it 74-57.
When the Wizards closed within 13 in the fourth, James isolated Butler on the left side, blew past him and soared for a strong layup to make it 89-74 with 4:44 remaining.
“He controlled the game,” Wizards forward Jared Jeffries said. “You could live with him getting 30 points, but what you don’t want is 11 rebounds and 11 assists.”
James showed a bit of nervousness early on, shooting an airball on his first jumper. But once he settled down, it was business as usual. He scored 13 points with four assists and three rebounds in the first quarter, helping the Cavs open a 31-20 lead.
“My first shot in my first All-Star game was an airball, too,” James said.
With the score tied 18-all, James drained a 3-pointer from up top and scored nine straight points. He then fed Marshall in the right corner for a 3 as the Cavaliers ripped off 12 in a row and closed the period with a 13-2 spurt.
James had his choice of three new pairs of Nikes to wear in his playoff debut. He selected white ones with large gold straps across the tongue. James wrote “Brenda. R.I.P” on them, a salute to a high school teammate’s mother who died recently. … The Wizards were to return home after the game. “Being an afternoon game, we can rest at home tonight and have a light practice Sunday,” Jordan said. “It’s always better to be comfortable at home.” … Wizards C Etan Thomas, who missed the final three regular-season games with back spasms, played 7 minutes and scored 2 points.