LeBron's Game 1 heroics speak plenty

Originally Published: April 19, 2008
By Brian Windhorst | Special to ESPN.com

LeBron JamesGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesLeBron James scored 32 points, including 20 in the second half, to quiet his critics from the Wizards.

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James says he doesn't trash talk.

Then again, when there's rough play on the floor, he reminds everyone that he used to be a football player. A wide receiver, and one who, truthfully, almost never ran across the middle and who tried to get out of bounds to avoid hits as much as possible. He was prudently protecting his body from injury back in his teens, but the point is, LeBron doesn't always do as he says.

James found himself indeed trash talking to numerous Wizards on Saturday. He threw an elbow at Andray Blatche, he mocked DeShawn Stevenson's signature move by waving his hand in front of his face after a dunk and he popped up and got into a confrontation with Brendan Haywood because he was "just standing above me in a very disrespectful manner.

"I didn't get rattled, emotions ran over just a little bit. My play speaks louder than me going out there and pushing somebody and talking trash," James said.

So that was the talk part, and it was entertaining, but on this day, there was a walk part, too. Which is, after all, what sets the Cavs' star apart.

James' playoff résumé already has several volumes, and another new tab is required after he led the Cavs to a 93-86 victory in Game 1 of this first-round series. James got his numbers: 32 points, six rebounds and four assists. As usual, though, his performance was deeper than the stats.

I was built for this, I am not 6-9, 260 pounds to shoot jumpers all night. I go to the hole, I create contact. Don't ever think I'm the only one that feels that contact.

-- LeBron James

With the game tied in the final two minutes, James delivered two acrobatic baskets to put the Cavs ahead for good. Then he grabbed a key rebound and wrestled away a ricochet off a jump ball just to make sure. It was the seventh straight time the Cavs beat the Wizards in the postseason, and once again, James was mostly the hero in the vital stretch run.

"Is it a broken record?" Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "To a certain degree it is."

The Wizards' game plan to deal with their playoff nemesis had been pretty clear. The verbal prodding may have been just a facet, but the idea was to pound James every time he came near the basket. It was almost to the point, as Jordan said afterward, that he didn't seem to care much if James got to the hoop and scored. Jordan got more upset when James got there without getting hit.

In the first half, Blatche fouled him twice and sent James to the floor with a blow that didn't draw a whistle, but did draw some blood in his mouth. James got sick of the contact and smashed Blatche back with an elbow, which the officials didn't see or at least didn't call. Later, Caron Butler wrapped his arms around James on another drive.

And James drew a technical foul for getting into it with Haywood, which ended up created a massive logjam at center court with players snorting at one another and officials pushing them apart.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Wizards tried to rough up LeBron James in Game 1 on Saturday, to no avail.

"There's a difference between a hard foul and when LeBron James comes to the hole, just hammer him," James said.

"He can't go in there and get hit across the face and not protect himself," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "He's got to go in there with attitude."

Ultimately, that is what James did when it mattered. With the Wizards double-teaming James to force the ball out of his hands on the outside, the Cavs went back to an old play they hadn't used in two years -- one that Eric Snow, out for the season with a knee injury, reminded the coaching staff about during a meeting this week. James stood on the backside of the defense and then got a pick from center Zydrunas Ilgauskas as he came across the top of the key. Twice this cleared him to get the ball on a curl.

Once he split Antawn Jamison and Haywood for a layup, without serious contact, much to the chagrin of the Wizards coach. Then with 55 seconds left, James put the Cavs up four points and the Wizards in very deep trouble when he slipped past Stevenson and dropped in a lob over Haywood's swinging hand.

There it was, ballgame. Like the contested layup he made over Wizards forward Michael Ruffin to win a game in 2006, or when he slipped past Jamison for a winner in Game 5 in the same series, or when he bounced off Jason Maxiell and tossed in an underhanded bank shot to steal a game in Detroit in last year's conference finals against the Pistons. Now add two more to James' clutch shot-making résumé.

"I was built for this, I am not 6-9, 260 pounds to shoot jumpers all night," James said. "I go to the hole, I create contact. Don't ever think I'm the only one that feels that contact."

Brian Windhorst covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal.