Wizards' Arenas has last word

He has 20 points in 4th to top James as team rallies to tie series at 2-2

Wizards 106 Cavaliers 96

May 01, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Gilbert Arenas could see the numbers piling up on the scoreboard for LeBron James, and could feel the open ing-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers - and the season itself - slipping away for the Washington Wizards last night at Verizon Center.

Having already made several statements about his place in the NBA's hierarchy of stars this season, Arenas might have made his biggest one in playing all 48 minutes and leading the Wizards to a crucial 106-96 victory over James and the Cavaliers in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series.

Arenas finished with 34 points, all but six of them in the second half and 20 in the fourth quarter. After starting the game by miss ing 11 of his first 13 shots, Arenas made six straight shots in one stretch to help the Wizards erase a 13-point deficit early in the sec ond half and even a series that heads back to Cleveland on Wednesday night.

"Shooting-wise we struggled early." Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said, "Gil struggled Gil got it going when we went small [in the second half]. When Gil gets it going, we all feed off him."

James scored a game-high 38, but slowed down after a torrid start. James, who scored 41 points and hit the winning shot in Game 3 Friday night, set a franchise record with 25 points in the first half last night, but went dramatically downhill until a brief spurt in the fourth quarter.

Asked about holding James scoreless in the third quarter, Jordan said: "I'll be careful about that. We didn't hold him scoreless. He just missed some shots and was looking for his teammates."

Not only did James go scoreless in the third quarter, he committed a couple of crucial turnovers on offensive fouls in the fourth. With his team trailing 98-90 after he made his seventh three-pointer of the game - another franchise playoff record - James lost possession and elbowed Jared Jeffries going for the ball.

Trailing by 11 points at halftime, Washington fell behind by as many as 13 on two occasions early in the second half, the second time at 63-50 on a breakaway layup by former Wizard Larry Hughes. But Hughes, who had harassed Arenas into a 1-for-9 first-half shooting, picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter.

The Wizards came out of their funk, and so did Arenas. They went on a big run, a stretch that included Arenas scoring 22 of his team's 27 points. Arenas pulled the Wizards to within three, 72-69, with his first three-pointer of the game and helped Washing ton tie the score at 72 with two free throws right before the fourth quarter.

If there were any doubters that James couldn't back up his Game 3 performance, they were quickly silenced last night. James took over nearly from the start, hitting six of his first seven shots, including four of five on three-pointers and outscored the Wizards in one stretch 10-4, helping the Cavaliers to a 27-20 lead.

Though James kept up his hot shooting, finishing the opening quarter with 18 points to set a franchise playoff record, the Wiz ards closed their deficit to 28-26 and eventually took a 38-36 lead on a jumper by Antonio Daniels with 6:55 left in the first half. But Washington couldn't sustain its success.

Reserve guard Flip Murray gave Cleveland a 39-38 lead, and after Antawn Jamison put Washington into the lead again, another three-pointer by James - his fifth of the game - started the Cavaliers on a 10-2 run which he finished with a put-back layup for a 49-42 lead.

James, who had played all but about five minutes in the first three games, came out after picking up his second foul a short time later, finishing with a franchise playoff-record 25 points in the half, on 9 of 14 shooting. More impressive was the fact that the Cavaliers, without James, increased their lead to 11 points by halftime, 57-46.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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