Commentary

Jamison is just what the Cavs need

Originally Published: April 25, 2010
By Chris Broussard | ESPN The Magazine

Antawn JamisonJoe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesAntawn Jamison had 24 points and seven rebounds to help the Cavs take a 3-1 lead on the Bulls.

CHICAGO -- No one in the NBA has a game like Antawn Jamison. Other players shoot the ball in odd ways. Other guys have unconventional styles. But no one plays basketball like Jamison.

Contest him in the paint and he'll swing his arm 180 degrees and toss in a scoop shot underneath your armpit. Guard him on the wing and he'll go by you and finish with a one-hander across his body, even though he could have squared up and been a lot more "textbook.''

But don't knock it. It works for Jamison and now it's working for the Cavaliers.

Sunday, in a game Cleveland needed badly in order to put the stubborn Chicago Bulls in their place, Jamison scored 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Cavs gain a 121-98 victory and a 3-1 lead in the series.

Jamison wasn't The Show. We all know that's nearly impossible considering who he is teammates with. But he was a superb supporting actor to LeBron James, who channeled Oscar Robertson in earning his fifth career triple-double in the postseason. It was a Man's 3-D too: 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

"It came down to LeBron and Jamison,'' Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said.

How often have we heard that -- that it came down to LeBron and someone else? Usually, it's just LeBron.

But with LeBron pushing 40 and Jamison 25, the Cavs were a load Sunday. And it's no surprise. Since 2006, Cleveland is 9-1 in the playoffs when one of James' teammates scores 24 points or more.

Jamison, who's averaging 18 points and eight rebounds for the series, did his damage in smorgasbord fashion. He sank a 3-pointer, scored in the post, put back offensive rebounds and drove for layups, often, of course, finishing with a strange-looking shot that hit nothing but net.

"Of all my seven years in the NBA, I've always said Tawn is the most unorthodox guy we have in our league,'' said James, who called Jamison "the X factor'' in Game 4. "He makes shots that I've never seen before. It's unbelievable some of the shots he makes -- the flip shots, the underarm shots. It's hard to guard a guy like that, and it's really effective. I'm glad he's on our side now.''

So is Jamison, who battled and lost to James in three consecutive postseasons while playing for the Washington Wizards. While much has been made about LeBron's pursuit of his first championship and Shaquille O'Neal's quest for his fifth, Jamison's thirst for a ring has gone overlooked.

For him, a title would cap a great career and also be a just reward for a two-time All-Star who's averaged 19.8 points and 8.1 rebounds over his 12 seasons. One of the most admired and respected players in the league, Jamison has spent much of his career amid dysfunction, toiling in Golden State for five years and Washington for five and a half. To finally have a shot at winning it all is like being in some sort of Wonderland for the 6-foot-9 forward.

"It's the opportunity of a lifetime,'' said Jamison, 33. "It's been 12 years, and I've accomplished a lot on the individual level, but as far as the team level, I haven't gotten past the second round. It seems like every year around this time I'm sitting and watching other teams and other guys get an opportunity and come June, I'm sick. It's frustrating.

"[Winning a championship] is the only thing that drives me. It's the only thing left for me to accomplish. My name has been associated with being a good guy, a great teammate, a good guy in the locker room, but the one thing I want that name to be associated with is being a champion. I haven't done it on the college level, and it's been difficult the last 11 years, so hopefully this is the opportunity. I think it's a great one.''

With the Cavs coming off a sorry performance in Game 3, Jamison seemed a bit more aggressive than usual. Many of his plays were game changers.

In the second quarter, he scored nine points to help the Cavaliers take a 62-52 lead into the locker room. Less than two minutes before intermission, he drove down the left side of the lane and hit a one-handed shot with his right hand while being fouled by James Johnson. His ensuing free throw pushed the Cavs' lead to eight, their biggest margin to that point. In the third quarter, Jamison scored 12 points to help Cleveland turn it into a laugher.

Now about all those weird ways of shooting.

Perhaps Jamison developed his style in middle school, when his dad, Albert, accidentally made the family hoop 11 feet high rather than the standard 10 feet. Jamison's not placing culpability on Dad, but even if he were, it'd be credit, not blame.

"Once I got to college I was still the skinny little kid and everybody outweighed me by 30, 40 pounds and two or three inches, and it's just something that comes natural,'' said Jamison, who played his college ball at North Carolina.

"My teammates joke with me all the time, [asking] do I be in the gym in the summertime working on those shots? I do not. But it's been successful so far and I'm really comfortable with it. It throws my opponent off. I have no idea how I developed the unorthodox style, but as long that ball keeps going in the basket, I'm happy.''

So are LeBron and the rest of the Cavaliers.