TNT’s John Thompson: Is LeBron enough to carry the Cavs?
CLEVELAND (AP)—LeBron James now has his signature shot. Until further notice, “The Layup” defines his growing greatness.
James tiptoed along the baseline and muscled through traffic for the layup with 0.9 seconds left in overtime, giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a 121-120 victory over the Washington Wizards and a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series on Wednesday night.
With the Cavs down by one, James, who finished with 45 points, grabbed an inbounds pass from Larry Hughes with 3 seconds to go. Nearly trapped in the corner, he delicately slid past Antawn Jamison and knifed inside.
“I had enough room on the baseline,” said James, who added seven rebounds and six assists. “If I wore an 18 or 19 size shoe, I wouldn’t have made it. But I wear a 16 and was able to tightrope that baseline to get a layup.”
Arenas, who matched James bucket for bucket and had 44 points, was way off with a desperation heave at the buzzer. The Wizards still had two timeouts left, but failed to call one after James’ basket.
The best-of-seven series, which has been bogged down by whining from both teams and some questionable officiating, returns to Washington for Game 6 on Friday night.
“If we can go to Washington and close it out, it will be one of my biggest basketball thrills,” James said.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said the plan was not to put James on the line. If he was going to win it, he would have to earn it.
“He made something out of nothing which is what great players do,” Jordan said. “A lot of normal guys miss that.”
Larry Hughes scored 24 points, Eric Snow had 18, including six in overtime, and Flip Murray added 12 for the Cavaliers, who blew a seven-point lead late in regulation and nearly gave up their home-court advantage for the second time in the series.
James, who fouled out Jared Jeffries late in regulation, gave Butler his sixth personal foul with 25 seconds left. James made both free throws—he went 17-for-18 from the line—to give the Cavaliers a 119-118 lead.
But Arenas, who scored eight points in the overtime, was fouled on a drive to the hoop by Murray and made two free throws with 3.6 seconds left, setting up James’ final shot.
Cleveland’s star, who won Game 3 with a last-second drive, had missed a jumper at the end of regulation that would have won it, but he made sure he was closer to the basket for this attempt, a layup that moves to the top of his already superlative-laden resume.
“We thought we did a great job cutting off that baseline,” Arenas said. “He made an athletic move. He hit his first game-winner in the playoffs.”
Arenas paused, then corrected himself.
“Second,” he said.
It was the kind of play Michael Jordan used to make, and the kind James has been delivering for most of his basketball life.
“The last play,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said, shaking his head. “What an aggressive drive. He knew we needed the basket. They ran three guys at him and he found a way to get to the rim and score the basket.”
The Cavaliers seemed to have Game 5 wrapped up, leading 107-100 when James, who scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, made two free throws with 1:18 left.
But Daniels completed a three-point play and Butler forced a turnover before scoring twice underneath as Washington fought back to tie it 107-all on Butler’s layup with 7.5 seconds remaining.
James spent the final 6:53 of the third quarter sitting angrily on the bench after picking up his fourth foul. Referee Joe Forte called a block on James, who tried to slide in front of Arenas on a drive.
James bounced off the floor to argue and then walked to the Cavs bench palming the ball and looking as if he might take it home with him. He stood during his first minute of his seclusion cheering for the Cavs, who were down 64-63 when he left but outscored the Wizards 22-17 to take an 85-81 lead into the fourth.
The Cavaliers shot 61 percent from the field in the first half but only led 52-51.
Arenas scored 20 points in the first 16 minutes. However, the Cavaliers adjusted and held him without a field goal over the final 8:22 after they began running a second defender at the guard as soon as he touched the ball.
James divulged part of Cleveland’s game plan before tipoff, saying he was going to get the ball early to Hughes, who came in averaging just 10.3 points in the playoffs. James made good on the promise as Hughes scored 11 points in the opening quarter.
He also got leveled on a drive by Wizards backup center Etan Thomas, who was called for a flagrant 1 foul and set off a heated discussion between the teams.
There was the usual beef with the officials, too, as each side objected to calls they felt should go the other way.
Before the game, James joked that he wasn’t getting any preferential treatment from officials.
“I’m supposed to be the kid in this league,” he said. “But I’m treated like a grown man.”
The last time two players scored 40 points in a playoff game was Game 1 of the 2001 finals when Allen Iverson of Philadelphia had 48 and Shaquille O’Neal of the Lakers had 44 in the 76ers’ 107-101 overtime victory.
NBA commissioner David Stern has enjoyed being a witness to James’ first playoffs. “Everyone knows he’s great,” he said. “Now’s a chance to see how good the team is—the contribution he makes to his team. It’s sort of a rite of passage in the world of basketball, and that’s fun to watch.” … Cavs F Luke Jackson will undergo his second back operation in less than two years on Thursday to repair a herniated disc. Jackson, the 10th overall pick in the 2004 draft, has played in just 46 games in his first two NBA seasons because of injuries.