CLEVELAND -- LeBron James got all the way to the basket for the winner for two reasons: Because he's LeBron James, and because his opponents were scared.
How 'Bron's winner developed
The Wizards were not scared of James, mind you. At least not any more scared than they should have been.
But they were afraid of the referees.
Jamison wasn't the only Washington defender afraid of running afoul of an officiating crew that whistled 61 fouls, sent the Cavs to the line 43 times (Washington shot 29) and sent starters Caron Butler and Jared Jeffries to the bench with their sixth personal fouls.
"We set it up that we didn't want the ball go to the baseline, period," Jamison said. "We wanted it to go to the top of the key. It went to the baseline and kind of caught me off guard, and he took advantage of that. But the plan was for the ball to not even get into the corner, and unfortunately we had one of the biggest breakdowns at a crucial point in the game."
Cleveland coach Mike Brown had drawn up an inbound play to get the ball to James in the left corner, and he credited Larry Hughes with making a superb pass around Brendan Haywood to get the ball into the hands of the player everyone knew would be getting the last shot.
So why did the Wizards allow James to get the ball in exactly the spot he wanted?
"We definitely wanted it to go away from the short corner. That's the easiest place to hit a bucket when they're taking the ball out on the sideline," Haywood said. "But [Hughes] was able to lean to the side a little and avoid my arm and get it to LeBron.
"I wanted to avoid [encroaching on Hughes] out of bounds. The referee was really on me about not crossing that line, or he was going to call a tech," Haywood said.
A savvier player would have known that no official in his right mind was going to call a technical foul for overcrowding the inbounder with 3.6 seconds left in overtime of a critical postseason game. (OK, Joey Crawford might have the guts to make that call, but no one else would).
But that small seed of doubt in Haywood's mind, along with Jamison's caution-fueled decision to set up his defensive position a half-foot from where he should have, gave James both the ball and the opening he needed.
"I had enough time to visualize the best way to get to the hoop. I saw Antawn closing out hard, but I had enough room on that baseline. If I had a size 18 or 19 shoe, I wouldn't have made it. But I wear a 16, and I was able to tightrope and get it in," James said.
James finished with 45 points, going 17-for-18 from the line, to overcome 44 points from Gilbert Arenas, 32 from Jamison and 20 from Butler. The Cavs frittered away a seven-point lead in the final 1:18 of regulation ("We got soft," James said) to give the Wizards an extra chance they never should have had, but Washington responded in kind with the kind of mental softness -- fearing the referees -- that helped give James the two tiny slivers of daylight he needed.
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David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James takes it to the hoop and beats the Wiz. His 45th point gave the Cavs a 121-120 Game 5 overtime win.
Don't overlook Detroit's 122-93 Game 5 demolition of Milwaukee on Wednesday. While more compelling first-round series such as Cavs-Wizards and Lakers-Suns continue to divert our attention, let's not forget to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize. Although it was a foregone conclusion the Pistons would advance easily against the league's only sub-.500 playoff team, the way Detroit closed it out cemented its status as Eastern Conference favorite.
Most notable was the play of Richard Hamilton. I guess the ankle is feeling OK these days because Hamilton did everything but pin a "Kick Me" sign on T.J. Ford's back en route to scoring 40 points. Rip had more energy than any Bucks player right from the opening tip, when he breezed past Michael Redd -- inexcusably standing with hands on hips a full two seconds after the ball went up -- for an uncontested layup (in fairness to Redd, he was the only Buck to show up for this series).
As a result of Rip's return to health and the Pistons' general sharpness, the Eastern Conference playoffs are nothing more than the Detroit Invitational. It's tough to come up with a single team in the East you would put money on to have a competitive series against the Pistons right now, much less beat them.
Just look at their so-called competition. New Jersey is barely squeezing past an Indiana team that has half its roster in casts; the Heat have their hands full with a feisty but modestly talented Chicago club; and the Cavs are a one-man band that can't possibly cope with Detroit's multitudinous maestros.
So although the Pistons-Bucks series didn't do much to get our hearts racing, keep the impressive result in the back of your minds as the playoffs progress. In the big picture, Detroit should be one of the two teams left standing in June.
-- John Hollinger
Some trade tattle I've heard during this Best First Round Ever:
• Milwaukee's Jamaal Magloire is a prominent name on Memphis' offseason trade wish list, according to industry sources. The Grizzlies didn't have anyone average even seven boards a game in the 4-0 brooming they got from Dallas, and Grizz president Jerry West was one of the leading Magloire pursuers before the Bucks stunned several teams by acquiring the 6-11 center from New Orleans/Oklahoma City just days before the start of the season.
As well as Pau Gasol played in the regular season, Memphis has been looking for a legit, beefy complement to the Spaniard for years. Magloire is also represented by West's favorite agent (Arn Tellem) and is widely considered a lock to be moved before camp opens as he enters the final year of his contract (at $8.3 million), with the Bucks hopeful that Andrew Bogut and Dan Gadzuric will be ready to share the center spot next season.
• A few executives I've surveyed are convinced that the Clippers' long-range plan calls for trading Corey Maggette to a team with salary cap room (such as Atlanta or Chicago) for the best draft pick they can get. Their thinking: Maggette's contract dropping off the books would persuade owner Donald T. Sterling to spend what it takes to re-sign Sam Cassell and Vladimir Radmanovic.
The Clippers, though, scoff at such suggestions. They say that Sterling doesn't make those kinds of salary-dump deals any more and that there's no way he'd part with an asset such as Maggette -- who would have netted Ron Artest, remember, if Indiana hadn't called off a trade with L.A. in January -- in exchange for a mere draft pick or two. Guess we'll have to wait and see. Sterling is obviously giddy about the Clips' success and might self-combust at courtside if his lads actually meet and beat the Lakers in a Hallway Series.
The man hasn't changed that much, though. Sterling's spending more than he ever has, but his preference remains keeping the new-era Clips' payroll as close to the cap as possible. The Clips are slightly over this season's $49.5 million cap. Knowing all that, it's tough to see Sterling retaining Maggette and signing the other two. And Cassell (L.A.'s strongest locker room force) and Radmanovic (a big forward with deep range) are more critical to the team's success next season.
• Andres Nocioni finished only sixth in Most Improved Player voting, but he'd probably be the favorite in a Playoff MIP race. Said one Eastern Conference executive: "He's played his way in this Miami series to 'untouchable' status." In other words: Luol Deng is the athletic swingman teams will try to pry away from the Bulls at season's end, knowing it's futile to go after Nocioni.
-- Marc Stein
Rip Hamilton had 40 points in three quarters, leading the Pistons to a clinching Game 5 win over the Bucks.
Bucks Stopped Here
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace celebrates teammate Chauncey Billups' 3-point basket at the end of the first quarter. The Pistons won, 122-93, winning the series in five.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
I didn't think we'd be seeing a 40-point game from Rip Hamilton in Detroit's first-round dismissal of Milwaukee. What I thought, actually, is that Rip should have sat out a game or two (or more) after tweaking his ankle in Game 1.
Now, I'm not so sure.
Here's how my thinking evolved and it has nothing to do with the 40 points.
To me, it was a needless risk for Hamilton to play hurt against the Bucks. The Pistons could have won this series without him, but they can't get back to the NBA Finals without him. My feeling, then, was that the Pistons should have been extra cautious and shut Rip down for a game or two -- even if they didn't think the injury was that serious -- to make sure Hamilton is as spry as possible for the next three rounds.
So what happens? Rip (shocker) didn't sit out any games. Rip, remember, didn't even sit out the rest of Game 1 against the Bucks, trying to come back once after spraining his left ankle in the fourth quarter.
But I wasn't surprised. I've long believed the Pistons' famed five starters are too courageous for their own good sometimes. As much as Detroit fans have to love knowing their guys would try to play through an ACL tear, I wondered whether Hamilton and Ben Wallace (after knee, ankle and hand injuries earlier in the season) rushed back faster than they should have because they think that's what Pistons are supposed to do.
Then I learned, through a little digging, that there's more at work here than merely living up to the team's reputation for durability. I'm told the Pistons' starters simply believe that their greatest strength is their collective willpower. What they treasure most -- more than their defense or their unselfishness or having two Wallaces and Chauncey Billups in the clutch -- is the belief that they can overcome any outside force. Injury included.
Coach Flip Saunders hasn't finished his first full season in Detroit, but he already knows you don't ask players that driven to turn their willpower on and off in the name of safety. Gregg Popovich doesn't do it when Manu Ginobili is flinging himself about with reckless abandon. Pat Riley doesn't do it with play-through-anything Dwyane Wade. And Saunders doesn't do it with the Detroit starters.
It's an approach that comes with unavoidable risks, but I think I understand now.
-- Marc Stein
Raja Bell said it best -- that Kobe is an arrogant, pompous individual. In my mind he was being nice! The fact that Kobe said that he doesn't try to go out and elbow people, that that is not the way he plays is a complete joke! Need we remind him how he reacted to being on the receiving end of a Mike Miller elbow earlier this season? With the way the refs have treated him and the Lakers, it is no wonder that he acts like he is above the game!
I side with Steve Nash. You go back and look at the tape you will see half a dozen fouls on the Lakers that weren't called in that game. Look back to the series as a whole there are at least 20 fouls that weren't called on the Lakers.
I lost a little respect for Steve Nash last night. The impending suspension of Bell was because Bell yanked Kobe's head from his shoulders, not just because it was Kobe. Give me a break Nash!
Raja "Divac" can't seem to play without his hate and envy of Kobe, even at a timeout he continued to body up on him. His rep is a new cheap shot artist, not as cheap as Kermit Washington, but it's in his mind and he will explode again, bigger.
Should Raja Bell be suspended for his hard foul on Kobe Bryant?
42.4% Yes, one game
24.1% Yes, two games
Should Bryant receive any penalty for his elbow to Bell a few minutes earlier?