- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

The Wizards saved their postseason lives last night, as they finally played with a sense of purpose and urgency after falling behind by 13 points early in the second half.

With Gilbert Arenas stamping himself all over the proceedings, the Wizards defeated the Cavaliers 106-96 to tie the best-of-7 series at 2-2.

Arenas finished with 34 points, 28 in the second half, after starting in a 2-for-13 shooting stupor.

The Wizards elected to concede the 3-pointer to LeBron James, which was not necessarily a bad idea.

James can be an awfully streaky shooter on the perimeter, especially on the pull-up jumper.

His outside shot sometimes looks just wretched. The rotation on his shot is sometimes as funny looking as the outside shot belonging to Eric Snow, who is the best knuckleball shooter in the NBA.

James shot an air ball in both Game 1 and Game 2. A number of his other outside shots threatened to bring the backboard to the floor. He mostly hurt the Wizards on his forays to the basket in the first three games of series.

And he also was helped by the referees on his game-winning basket in Game 3, when he took about 15 steps without dribbling the ball, hopped a couple of times and then converted the most fascinating up-and-under maneuver ever.

The three referees missed the whole play, perhaps because they were on the cell phone taking their last-second orders from the NBA honchos, as follows: Do not call traveling on James under any circumstances.

So the Wizards decided they no longer could tolerate James’ dribble-free drives to the basket. They figured it would be to their benefit if James was encouraged to take 3-pointers. And they figured they could live with the results.

But they could not know that James would be 4-for-5 on 3-point attempts in the first quarter and then add another 3-pointer in the second quarter, as the Cavaliers built an 11-point advantage after 24 minutes.

This was not the scenario the Wizards envisioned after they squandered a 14-point lead and allowed the referees and James to determine the outcome of Game 3.

Arenas was unable to counter James in the beginning.

Arenas was in the throes of a shooting funk. He even was struggling from the free-throw line at one point.

The Wizards thought they saw a reprisal of Game 3 for a moment in the third quarter, when James was allowed to skate 40 feet without taking a dribble before passing the ball to Donyell Marshall for a 3-pointer.

The crowd erupted with boos as James pirouetted around the court.

The crowd should be learning by now that James is able to push the NBA nation to manic heights if he is permitted no fewer than five steps on each drive to the basket.

This latest non-call on James allowed the Cavaliers to push their lead to nine points, as the Wizards were attempting to mount a push.

The Wizards appeared to recognize that the rest of their season was hanging in the balance. They knew they would be done if they fell to 3-1 in the series.

Arenas hit a 3-pointer late in the third quarter and came out of his fog.

Antawn Jamison, who had performed well in only the second half of Game 2, carried the Wizards in the early going. Then Caron Butler was able to carry the Wizards for a stretch in the third quarter before Arenas started to come alive.

It was as if the two teams decided to trade places from Game 3, only this time, it was the Cavaliers who could not stand prosperity. The Cavaliers led 63-50 early in the third quarter and let it slip away.

James was nowhere to be found as the Wizards climbed back into the game. He did not score in the third quarter after a 25-point first half.

The Wizards led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter before, in typical fashion, they committed just enough blunders to give the Cavaliers hope.

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