- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

CLEVELAND — This time he had some help. But in the end, as usual, it came down to LeBron.

LeBron James drove the baseline at the buzzer in overtime, giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a 121-120 victory over the Wizards in an epic Game 5 of their playoff series. As the legend grows, James scored 45 points. But after carrying the Cavaliers through the first four games of their first-round playoff series with the Wizards, he welcomed some assistance. Larry Hughes, the ex-Wizard, had 24 points in his best game of the series. Eric Snow and Flip Murray had some big baskets.

Gilbert Arenas had 44 points for the Wizards, including two free throws with 3.6 seconds left in overtime, before James’ winning basket.

Up 3-2, in the series, the Cavaliers can clinch Friday against the Wizards in Game 6 at Verizon Center.

Earlier, the Cavaliers survived an extended absence by James.

The Cavaliers’ third-year superstar and the leading scorer in the entire NBA Playoffs went to the bench with his fourth foul with 6:53 left in the third quarter. After two free throws by Arenas, the Wizards led 65-64 in this all-important game.

But with James comfortably sprawled next to the bench after calming down from his hissy fit, Cleveland held the fort. Hughes made some big shots. Without James, who had scored 25 points at the time, the Cavaliers ran off 22 points during the rest of the period and led by four.

Then James returned for the fourth quarter and did what he does best. He took over. He scored 14 points in the period, spinning to the basket, fading away and launching jumpers, diving to the floor.

The Cavaliers took their seven point lead, but the Wizards stormed back.

Beforehand, with the teams tied at two wins apiece, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown acted as if it was just another game. “Pressure? I think every game is pressure,” he said.

But some more than others. In league history, Game 5 winners are 107-21 when it comes to going on to win a seven-game series. Some veteran Cavaliers watchers were calling this the biggest game in team history. This is a franchise that last made the playoffs in 1998 and has advanced past the first round once since 1976.

James would not deviate from the script, either.

“It’s up there, but it’s not the most important nor the biggest game I’ve ever played in,” he said.

Regardless of what anyone said, the reality was inescapable after Game 5 went to the Wizards.

On Tuesday, Brown admitted that the Cavaliers’ offensive futility in their Game 4 loss to the Wizards was his responsibility. “Offensively, we got stagnant,” he told reporters. “A lot of it was my fault.”

The mea culpas did not end there. Addressing how James became overly enamored with the jump shot at the expense of using his 6-8, 250-pound frame down low, where he does the most damage, Brown said, “I’ll take the blame for that. I didn’t put him down there.”

James himself has the ability to put himself down there but despite his claims to the contrary, it appears he does not always have the inclination. He took only seven free throws in Game 4, explaining it’s hard to get to the line when you get called for four offensive fouls.

Game 5 was different. James waited until the end of the first half for his first charging foul. Meanwhile, he took his eighth free throw with 3:41 left in the second quarter. He went to the line 18 times in all. He missed just once.

Before last night, no matter where James was getting his points, his teammates were not getting theirs. Going into Game 5, the Cavaliers were shooting just 42.4 percent. Only forward Drew Gooden was over 50 percent from the field. And Gooden was just 8-for-20 after making 11 of 12 shots in Game 1.

James, the leading scorer (34.3) in the entire playoffs going in, had taken 32 percent of the Cavaliers’ shots. Only in their 97-86 victory in Game 1 did more than two other Cleveland players score in double-figures along with James.

Yet it was only slightly different for the Wizards, who supposedly have more balance. Even though he has been getting more help from his “Big Three” buddies, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, Arenas, averaging 31 points through the first four games, had taken 30 percent of the Wizards’ shots.

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