WASHINGTON (AP)—LeBron James was serenaded with chants of “over-rated!” as he stood at the free throw line late in the third quarter, the latest humorous twist in an ongoing saga that had somehow snared—yes, believe it or not—one of his son’s favorite rappers into a front-row seat near the basket.
James couldn’t help but laugh. He was so distracted he missed the free throw. Didn’t really matter. By then, the Cleveland Cavaliers were trailing by 28 points, a stunning reversal from Game 2 to Game 3 in their first-round series against the Washington Wizards.
Maybe it was the new haircuts sported by four Wizards players. Maybe it was the presence of Soulja Boy. Maybe it was sight of Colin Powell in a “White Out” T-shirt. Or just the comfort of being home. Or the inspiration of having Gilbert Arenas in the starting lineup, even though he limped out of the game in the first half.
Actually, there were plenty of reasons the Wizards routed their playoff nemesis, 108-72 in a Thursday night party at the Verizon Center. DeShawn Stevenson, who started the “overrated” talk and invited Soulja Boy to the game, had a “can’t-feel-my-face” 19 points. Caron Butler (17 points) and Antawn Jamison (15) also found their games. James didn’t have his. And, yes, those 15 first-half Cleveland turnovers had a lot to do with it, too.
“It was a good old fashioned behind-kicking,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said.
The victory took the Wizards off the ropes by cutting Cleveland’s lead to 2-1 in the first-round series. Washington will also host Game 4 on Sunday, when coach Eddie Jordan’s players will have the confidence of knowing they aren’t destined to be forever hexed by James and Co. Cleveland had won eight straight playoff games against the Wizards, including a first-round sweep a year ago.
“I don’t know about the rapper and haircuts,” Jordan said. “But I think the fans and the way we played kind of came together.”
One game after setting a franchise playoff record with a 30-point win in Game 2, the Cavaliers set another team postseason mark by losing by 36. The margin of victory also set a Wizards franchise playoff record.
The Wizards took control with a pair of 9-0 runs in the first half. They led 49-33 at halftime, and the Cavaliers never threatened to make a game of it in the second half.
But, oh, the subplots!
The crowd’s big chant was a reference to Stevenson’s claim that James was “overrated” following a Wizards’ victory over the Cavaliers last month. James said responding to that remark would be like Jay-Z responding to Soulja Boy—a hip-hop mogul answering a one-hit wonder.
Stevenson had to eat his words after Games 1 and 2, but he had Soulja Boy dancing in the aisle Thursday night while going 5-of-7 on 3-pointers. After making his shots, Stevenson ran down the court waving his hand in front of his nose, the “can’t-feel-my-face” gesture that Cleveland’s Damon Jones mocked in Game 2.
“If I was disrespected as an artist, I would have came, too,” Stevenson said. “I felt like Soulja Boy felt disrespected, and he came to support the Washington Wizards.”
So will the rapper, whose music was played on the sound system during the game, be back for Game 4?
“We got to get him here,” Stevenson said. “We won with him. Me and Gil are superstitious, so we have to get him back.”
What was James’ response to all this? First, he said the Wizards’ crowd wasn’t nearly as intimidating as the Detroit fans in last year’s playoffs.
And as for Soulja Boy?
“My son knows every last dance Soulja Boy does and every last song he ever made,” James said. “So if my son was watching, he enjoyed it.”
When it was suggested that this might be part of a budding DeShawn-LeBron rivalry, James had a good laugh.
“There’s no DeShawn-LeBron rivalry,” he said, laughing again.
The Wizards tried to force James, who scored 32 and 30 points in Games 1 and 2, to shoot more from outside, and it worked. Booed heavily every time he touched the ball, the Cavaliers All-Star couldn’t get into a flow.
James said Washington’s tactics in the first two games were like a “Hack-a-Bron” strategy, but there was nothing like that this time. He finished with 22 points on 10-for-19 shooting from the field and took only four free throws.
“We double-teamed him more,” Jordan said.
The Wizards no doubt felt they got the calls that they argued were lacking in Cleveland, where the games were marred by physical play that included Brendan Haywood’s Game 2 ejection for a hard foul on James.
On Thursday night, Haywood and Zydrunas Ilgauskas got mutual technicals for pushing and shoving in the first quarter, but the hostilities didn’t escalate. The crowd roared its approval when James was called for a charge for knocking over Butler in the first quarter.
The one major issue for the Wizards is Arenas, who started for the first time since November but injured his surgically repaired left knee in the first half. He walked off the court late in the first half with an obvious limp and a bone bruise. He is listed as day-to-day.
“I think he’s going to be OK for Sunday,” Jordan said.
Several Wizards also sported a new look in front of the home crowd, which was almost universally dressed in white. Butler had his nickname—“Tough Juice”—etched into the back of his hair. Stevenson and Andray Blatche sported mohawks, and Nick Young showed off a modified high-top fade. … The Wizards’ previous largest margin of victory in a playoff game came in 1978, when they beat Seattle 117-82 on the way to winning the NBA title. … The Cavaliers’ previous biggest loss in the postseason was a 122-91 defeat at Boston in 1992.