James: 'I don't have to win games by scoring'
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The swiftly completed Cavs-Wizards series was supposed to be about what the Wizards didn't have.
Instead, it turned out to be about what the Cavs do.
Perhaps the Cavs weren't as dominant as expected -- some incorrectly figured this Eastern Conference first-round series would be a bunch of blowouts -- but their poise and style spoke volumes about their intentions in these playoffs. Their 97-90 Game 4 win Monday was just like the other three games in Cleveland's first positive sweep in franchise history, a complete team effort.
Crack LeBron James' supporting cast all you want, and there have been plenty of nights when that seemed appropriate. But the supporting players showed up over the past eight days. Which, of course, is when it matters. If they continue the pace, they'll likely be a tough out for whomever they face.
James did plenty of scoring in the series, averaging 27.8 points, right at his season average. In Game 3, though, he didn't score a basket in the fourth quarter of that tight victory. On Monday, the last of James' 31 points came with six minutes to go, a long 3-pointer to tie the game. In fact, it was his last shot, but far from his last bit of influence.
The Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas-less Wizards decided before this series started that James would not beat them. Coach Eddie Jordan ordered double teams at every chance and triple teams in crunch time.
Yet instead of dribbling away while his teammates watched -- a weak result on several high-profile occasions during the regular season -- James did the exact opposite of what the Dallas Mavericks have been doing in upset danger zone. He coolly attacked and smartly executed, setting up his teammates for open shot after open shot. Twice in the final minute he absorbed a Wizards' crowd and zipped a pass to a waiting Zydrunas Ilgauskas for easy baskets, the final nails.
Ilgauskas had 20 points and 19 rebounds in Game 4, finishing off a series in which he averaged 19 and 11 and shot 60 percent from the floor. That's impressive -- until you factor in he did much of it unguarded. Larry Hughes averaged 19 and seven, Drew Gooden 14.5 and 10. All of them benefited from quick and clean deliveries from James, who had 30 assists in four games.
"LeBron is a major star, as we all know," a defeated Jordan said. "And he has gotten better at making his teammates better."
It's been a slow and grinding process that, thanks to a full slate of national television games, has been a very public one. It's also probably not over with more pressure situations to come and quite soon. But the progress is in the pudding. Even against the depleted Wizards, it was meaningful.
"Part of it is us starting to figure out where to be and how to read each other," Gooden said. "But it's 50-50, he's also learning how to use us."
While history might show this was a jumping off point for the James gang, it probably won't do justice to Antawn Jamison. Jamison scored 31 points in Game 4, finishing the series averaging 32 points and 10 rebounds. But he scored just three points in the final 16 minutes of Game 1, five points in the fourth of Game 3 and just five in the fourth in Game 4.
Still, he did it without virtually any help.
"We did not make excuses, a lot of guys counted us out," Jamison said. "We showed a lot of character."
Brian Windhorst covers the NBA for the Akron Beacon Journal.
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