CLEVELAND -- A voice of exasperation called out from the lower end zone seats, the fan's voice a mix of desperation, disgust and disbelief.
Shooting pains for LeBron
"Come on LeBron! What are you doing?"
That fan's shout out came with 9.7 seconds left in Cleveland's 89-84 loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night after James had passed up an opportunity to go for a game-tying 3-point shot, instead feeding the ball inside to Anderson Varejao, who was stripped of the ball by Gilbert Arenas to end the Cavs' last chance.
Cleveland probably shouldn't have even had that chance, but seldom-used Billy Thomas, the Wizards' third option on their inbounds play with 19.6 seconds left, was fouled and missed a pair from the line to give the Cavs a chance to tie it with a 3.
"I was asking myself if I had made the biggest blunder of all time," by inserting Thomas, said Washington coach Eddie Jordan.
But a bigger blunder was in store.
James grabbed the rebound, his ninth (he poked fun at himself afterward, noting that he almost had another triple-double, a dubious one, with 26 points, nine rebounds and 10 turnovers) and charged upcourt, making a snap decision to thread the ball inside to Varejao after two Wizards defenders moved into position to trap him near the top of the arc.
It happened so fast, it almost seemed James never even thought of shooting a 3 and going for the tie.
So what exactly were you thinking, LeBron?
"It was a situation where we got up the court fast enough to get a quick two. They doubled me, and Anderson broke loose. So I was guessing if we get the quick two, we're only down one and they've still got to make two free throws -- and that's right after they just missed two."
The decision will go down as the mistake of the game for James in a game in which there were many, many more. He had a blown breakaway dunk, a succession of bad passes into traffic that were picked off, a missed technical free throw, and too many offensive possessions that he ended with jump shots rather than driving to the basket ... a result, no doubt, of the consecutive charging fouls he was called for during the third quarter.
"After he got his fourth foul, we said it in the huddle ... he's going to be taking jump shots, so get a hand in his face," Arenas said.
James also was never the same after Washington center Brendan Haywood laid a hard foul on him late in the first quarter, catching James with a forearm across the neck after he had scored nine of the Cavs' first 19 points. James had only two points in the second quarter and four in the third period before shooting 2-for-10 in the fourth.
Aside from being much more physical with James, the Wizards ditched their Game 1 strategy of sending a second defender at him. That forced him to create his offense in one-on-one matchups, usually against Jared Jeffries or Caron Butler, which was a major reason why he finished with only two assists after going for 11 three days earlier.
As a passer, James beat the Wizards in Game 1. As a shooter, he couldn't beat them in Game 2. So expect to see many of the same defensive strategies when the series resumes Friday night at Washington, and expect the rough stuff to keep coming until James can show he's hardened enough to overcome it.
"We're going to hug him and kiss him and show him the way to the basket. He's a terrific guy, we love him," Jordan said in jest before turning serious.
"We're not going to do anything flagrant. We're not the toughest team in the NBA, we're not very physical, but tonight we brought it out," Jordan said. "We're not going to flagrantly foul anyone on purpose, it's just going to be good sportsmanship hard fouls."
• Talk back to The Daily Dime gang
Al Bello/Getty Images
Richard Jefferson dunks past Jermaine O'Neal of the Pacers. The Nets defeated the Pacers 90-75, tying the series 1-1.
Vince Carter sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving the Nets their first lead of the game and forcing Indiana's Rick Carlisle to stop the action with a timeout. Hyped and focused on redemption, an animated Carter yelled to courtside viewers Spike Lee and LaVar Arrington while hopping toward the Nets' bench midway through the first quarter.
"It can't happen twice!'' Carter screamed. "It can't happen twice!''
Whether it can or not, it didn't. The acrobat known as "Half-Man/Half-Amazing'' rebounded from his bricklaying 12-for-33 Game 1 performance to lead the Nets to a 90-75 victory over Indiana that evened this first-round Eastern Conference series at one game apiece.
It was also Carter's first playoff victory in six tries with the Nets, who were swept by Miami last season.
Carter was magnificent tonight, finishing with 33 points, 11 of them in a fourth-quarter outburst that quelled a Pacers rally. But just as importantly, the Nets were balanced. Just as Carter's errant shooting night didn't happen twice, the Nets' over-reliance on their superstar swingman did not repeat itself.
Jefferson, asserting himself more than he did in Game 1, scored 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting, and Krstic, who has been nothing short of dominant against Indiana's interior defenders, scored 20 while hitting 7-of-13 shots and grabbing 10 rebounds. Jason Kidd, who also struggled in Game 1, rebounded to orchestrate the balanced attack with 13 assists, 11 rebounds and 6 points.
Carter got the Nets going early, making his first four shots, three of them acrobatic layups, to score 14 first-quarter points. Then, after letting Jefferson and Krstic shine in the middle periods, he took over late.
With Indiana opening the fourth with a 9-0 run that chopped into the Nets' once-commanding lead, Carter entered the game and sank consecutive baskets to shift the momentum.
Plenty of Vince, but also plenty of balance. That's a combination the Pacers, and anybody else in the East, will find hard to beat.
-- Chris Broussard in East Rutherford
It was back on April 4 that Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof told your humble Midweek Dime correspondent in Dallas that he doesn't even want to consider the possibility of a failed Ron Artest experiment.
"I want to keep him forever," Maloof said.
Exactly three weeks later, Gavin's brother and co-owner Joe Maloof repeated the sentiment for Playoff Dime consumption as he boarded a plane bound for San Antonio and Tuesday night's Game 2 against the Spurs without the suspended Artest.
"I'm right there with Gavin," Joe Maloof said. "We totally support Ron."
Until his Game 1 swipe at Manu Ginobili, resulting in a controversial one-game ban that the Kings believe is purely a product of Artest's history and reputation, No. 93 had done nothing to make the Kings regret their Jan. 25 blockbuster with Indiana to get him.
And he still hasn't, according to Joe Maloof. The brothers give Artest a huge slice of credit for the team's turnaround from 17-24 all the way to a 44-37 finish and have come to enjoy Artest's bold proclamations about the Kings' ability to be playoff spoilers as much as his defense.
Asked if he and his brother had pardoned Artest's first transgression, Joe Maloof said: "We said when we brought Ron here that we were going to forget about the negatives and put all that behind us and that's what we're going to do. We were totally stunned when they announced the suspension. Totally bewildered. We never thought that would happen, but we have to abide by what the league decides."
-- Marc Stein
Gilbert Arenas was anything but a big zero, scoring 30 points. So the Wiz edged the Cavs, sending them back to D.C. tied at 1-1.
Wiz Get Tough
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
It may be true that when Brendan Haywood hits people, they stay hit. LeBron James didn't play too well after this leveling action by the Wiz center in the first quarter.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Drew Gooden shot 11-for-12 from the floor on a night when the rest of the LeBrons shot 27 percent.
Gooden was the 30th player to shoot 90 percent or better from the field in an NBA playoff game (minimum: 10 attempts), but the first to do so in a game in which his teammates shot below 30 percent.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
This was more than one or two lucky bounces on the same shot.
For the San Antonio Spurs?
This was Happy Birthday, Tim Duncan.
Brent Barry's 3-pointer that rattled out and up and then off the top of the backboard before dropping back down and through was merely the biggest slice of good fortune to save the Spurs in Game 2. On the same night Duncan turned 30, San Antonio actually needed more than that miracle -- more than the very, very kind shooter's roll on Barry's OT-forcing triple -- to win a Game 2 that lived up to every fear harbored by its coaching staff.
Gregg Popovich worried about an inevitable letdown after San Antonio's 34-point laugher in the series opener. He was likewise bracing for a free-swinging Kings response to Ron Artest's one-game suspension.
He saw it all, too, before the Spurs were rescued by all of their Barry fortune . . . as well as the most playoff-tested name on the Kings' thin roster.
Bonzi Wells and especially playoff neophytes Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Kevin Martin played huge for the short-handed Kings, moving the ball better and running more freely without Artest, but Sacramento's answer to Robert Horry -- 2002 playoff hero Mike Bibby -- undid much of their good work with an ill-timed, buzzer-to-buzzer nightmare.
While Reef was racking up 27 points and nine boards and threatening to foul out Duncan with his aggression in the post, Bibby was missing 12 of the 13 shots he attempted in regulation.
Then it got ugly.
With the Kings up 109-106 in the final five seconds, Bibby got suckered toward the paint as Manu Ginobili drove the opposite baseline. Duncan sneaked into position to pick Bibby off with a screen that left Barry all alone in the corner. It's the sort of mistake that, especially from a vet, tortures coaches.
It's the same Barry, furthermore, who was told in February that he was headed to Oklahoma City in a trade-deadline deal with the Hornets. . . only to be summoned back by the Spurs when the deal could not be consummated in time to beat the league's annual trade buzzer.
"We were lucky," Barry told the assembled press post-game, "to get out of our own building with a win like this."
Lucky doesn't even begin to describe it.
-- Marc Stein
Zien (Anaheim): After watching the Lakers on Sunday morning and reading your article, I still don't understand what the Lakers were doing. If Kobe would have been aggressive they would have won, don't you think?
Stein: It's like this. Phil called it "a feel-out game." The translation I was given, with a little help from those who speak Phil: The Zenmeister made the decision going in that the Lakers were going to pound, pound, pound the ball inside no matter how well it worked. Why? The Suns' lack of size is certainly part of it, but it's mainly because he wanted to get Kwame and Luke right into the series.
Phil figured that, win or lose, he had to pound the jitters out of Kobe's supporting cast to give L.A. its best chance of making this a long series. The crazy part: It worked even better than the Lakers imagined, because they stayed close despite Kobe being so passive that he screwed up his own game. Walton and Kwame combined for nearly 35 points and the game was there to be won in the fourth quarter. But Kobe, amazingly, couldn't close the deal.
I've received a lot of e-mails since my Sunday column calling me "crazy" to say that the Lakers were willing to sacrifice Game 1 to get all their young kids comfortable on the big stage. But it's true. You can believe whatever you want, but if you think that Phil really believes that his best chance to beat Phoenix is for Kobe to go 16 straight possessions without shooting -- as Kobe did in one early stretch -- I can't help you.