- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was calm as he walked into the locker room at halftime, even though his team was losing by double digits.

Jordan simply told his team to relax. He scrapped the Princeton offense and stayed true to his promise that he would not call a play for the better part of the second half of the Wizards’ 106-96 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night at Verizon Center.

The win evened the best-of-seven series 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Cleveland.

But here’s what Jordan didn’t know: Before the speech, Wizards All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas spent the early portion of halftime completely changing his uniform — from his sneakers down to his tights — in an effort to correct whatever produced his 1-for-9 performance in the first half.

It worked. Arenas scored 28 of his team-high 34 points in the second half, including 20 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Wizards to victory.

“That was night and day, wasn’t it?” said Arenas, who shot 7-for-11, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the second half. “Nothing was falling for me. I jut tried to get some steals and stay in the game. And in the fourth quarter, I just got it going. I changed my shoes, shorts, tights, jersey at halftime. I had to change everything. Right before Coach came in, I had to get out of that uniform because it was bad luck for me.”

No one needed to tell the Wizards the importance of not falling behind Cleveland 3-1. Of the 160 teams who have been down 3-1, only seven have come back to win the series. Most recently, Detroit rallied back to defeat Orlando during the 2002-03 season. Washington also accomplished this when it was known as the Bullets, against San Antonio in the 1978-79 season.

At halftime, the Cavaliers had an 11-point lead, thanks to 25 first-half points from LeBron James, who had a game-high 38, and 56-percent shooting for the team.

But as good as the Cavaliers were in the first half, the Wizards were just as good in the second, when they outscored the Cavaliers 60-39 and held James to a more manageable 13 points.

Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who has struggled during this series, had a good all-around game: 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Jordan clearly knows the pulse of his team. And that’s why he didn’t bolt into the locker room in a fit or rage, trash a locker or kick over a chair. Instead, he shocked his players by telling them, in sense, to mellow out.

“I just told them to loosen up a little bit and let’s have some fun,” he said. “I told them that I’m not going to call any plays to start the second half. I want you guys to play out of our concepts and move the ball and just play.”

That strategy worked. The Wizards outscored the Cavaliers 26-15 in the third quarter, which ended in a 72-72 tie after Arenas sank a pair of free throws with four seconds left.

“They switched the defense up and started running Gilbert Arenas as me, so I didn’t want to force anything,” James said. “I gave the ball up and we just missed some open shots. They also hit their shots, which helps.”

And while they were down three early in the fourth quarter, Arenas pushed the lead to 90-80 when he converted a three-point play with 6:14 left.

The Cavaliers did cut it to 96-90 when James drilled a 3-pointer with 3:10 left. But Caron Butler (21 points, six rebounds) restored the Wizards’ lead to 10 points with a pair of free throws and a turnaround jumper.

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