- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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WASHINGTON -- The Wizards have grown quite tired of being on the LeBron James playoff highlight reel.
On Sunday afternoon, they were determined to not allow another last-minute James shot to beat them, which has already happened three times in the past three years. But they found themselves on that highlight reel once again, when James used his other dangerous weapon to beat them. For the third time in three years, James used a cunning pass out of a double-team to cut down the Wizards, leaving them feeling even emptier than when James beats them with his own shot.
Two years ago he swung the ball out of traffic and set up Damon Jones for a long jumper in overtime in Game 6 that clinched the series. Nearly one year ago to the day, he rose up over multiple Wizards and found Sasha Pavlovic open for a 3-pointer in the closing seconds that put the Cavs up 3-0 in the series and ended the Wizards' hopes. This time around, he found Delonte West for a wide-open 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds left to give the Cavs a 100-97 victory, putting them up 3-1 in this series as it heads back to Cleveland.
When James is at his best, he is very difficult to stop, the Wizards have learned. When his teammates are helping, as they've done in crucial playoff moments against the Wizards over the past few years, it's downright tough for the opposition to stomach.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan offered a few clichés in describing the trend, pulling out phrases like "a rock and a hard place," "a double-edged sword" and "there's pros and cons" to try to explain how another close game went James' way.
After the Wizards battled back from 15 points down in the second half, finally tying the game on a Gilbert Arenas circus bank shot, they picked their battle. James had 34 points and enough was enough. But he also had five fouls, which meant putting bodies in front of him (and making him wary of being called for a charge) was the prudent thing to do. Already, James had pulled up and missed a 15-footer in the final minute, which allowed the Wizards to close the gap.
So James drove and the Wizards collapsed. The rest will go down as more history in the Verizon Center.
"Everybody in the gym had their eyes on LeBron," West said.
"Not only can he score, not only can he rebound, but he's got the ultimate trust in his teammates," Cavs coach Mike Brown said.
"When we take LeBron away," Jordan said, "the next priority is to take the rim away, the third priority is to get out to 3-pointer shooters. But "
Jordan then couldn't help but roll out another cliché, which seemed much easier to conjure up than a plan for slowing down the NBA's leading scorer, who also posted a career high in assists per game this season.
For years, James has been needled for not always demanding the last shot. It really came to a head during last year's Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, when he passed up a chance to tie in Game 1 and instead went to Donyell Marshall in the corner for the win. It was the same exact play the Cavs ran to set up West's winning shot Sunday. But Marshall missed, and the second-guessing started.
The phrase "killer instinct" has been brought up. Comparisons to Kobe Bryant have been issued. James has even been questioned by fellow players; in an interview last year, Arenas questioned James' late-game rationale.
Arenas is a guy who always wants the final shot. Playing on a bum knee while logging the most minutes he's played since November, he took a wild one Sunday that missed.
James has never apologized for his reasoning, insisting that he will make the proper basketball play. He says it when it works, he says it when it fails.
"I've always been a guy who trusted my teammates," James said. "Even before I got to the NBA."
The Wizards don't need James to prove his case to them. They've seen it too often already. So often, it's become a cliché.
"That's why he is LeBron James," said Wiz forward Antawn Jamison, whose 23 points and 11 rebounds were wasted in defeat. "It's just unfortunate for us."
Brian Windhorst covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal.
Despite criticism to the contrary, LeBron James has long believed he doesn't have to take the last shot. That philosophy brought home a winner in Game 4, Brian Windhorst writes.