- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

CLEVELAND — Those wanting to see how good the Washington Wizards are when their backs are against the wall will now get their chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who last made a playoff appearance in 1998, stand one game away from eliminating the Wizards after LeBron James scored a game-winning layup with less than a second to play. With the 121-120 overtime victory, Cleveland took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series last night at Quicken Loans Arena.

James gave the Cavaliers a 119-118 lead when he sank a pair of free throws with 25.1 seconds left.

But Washington’s Gilbert Arenas, who finished with a career playoff-high 44 points, gave the Wizards a 120-119 advantage when he sank two free throws after getting fouled by Cleveland’s Flip Murray with 3.6 seconds remaining.

But following a timeout, the Cavaliers got the ball to James, isolated against Michael Ruffin. James exploded past Ruffin for the game winner.

Game 5 is without question the pivotal game of just about any series. In league history just 28 out of 193 teams have recovered from falling behind 3-2. And teams that have won Game 5 have gone on to win the series 85 percent of the time (165-28).

The Cavaliers can eliminate the Wizards with a win Friday at Verizon Center.

Antawn Jamison added 32 points for the Wizards, who failed to take advantage of foul trouble on James, and Caron Butler finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Cleveland’s Larry Hughes had his best game of the series, finishing with 24, and veteran point guard Eric Snow added 18 for the Cavaliers.

In a game in which neither team led by more than eight points, James gave the Cavaliers a 101-83 lead when he hit a step-back jumper over Jared Jeffries.

The Wizards got to within 101-98 when Jamison sank a 3-pointer. But James returned the Cavaliers’ lead to 105-98 with two more baskets to force the Wizards to call timeout with 2:12 left.

But the Wizards battled back in it and with 35.3 to play Butler’s lay-up pulled the Wizards to within 107-105 and forced the Cavaliers to re-group in a timeout.

When play resumed, Arenas tipped the ball and knocked it out of bounds with 16.7 seconds to play. But when the ball went back in play to James he turned it over and at the other end Butler scored on a lay-up to tie the game.

The Cavaliers had one chance to win it in regulation, but James’s long jumper clanked harmlessly off the rim to set up overtime.

While the Cavaliers made 60 percent of their field goals in the first half, the Wizards held the lead for the majority of the first half, including the five-point lead Jamison game them when he netted a pair of free throws with 4:02 left in the half.

But the Cavaliers, who made 60 percent of their shots in the half, closed the quarter on a 10-4 run to lead by 52-51.

Needless to say both teams’ best player looked focused from the outset and ready to carry their respective team with the difference being that Arenas had more help.

Both he and Jamison each had 20 points by halftime and accounted for all but 11 of the Wizards’ points in the half.

James, however, didn’t have the same help but his marvelous play prevented that from being much of an issue.

By going 11 for 11 from the line in the half and making 6 of 10 shots from the floor James totaled 23 points in the half.

But the Wizards failed to capitalize on what appeared to be a huge break for them in the third quarter when James was called for his fourth foul with 6:53 to play and the Wizards up 65-64.

James left the game with the Wizards leading 63-62 and didn’t return for the rest of the quarter.

But rather than fade without their star, the Cavaliers would finish the quarter making nine of 114 shots from the floor to lead 85-81 at the end of the quarter.

The person most responsible for the Cavaliers stability through here was reserve guard Flip Murray. Acquired in a trade at the trading deadline, Murray scored 10 points the rest of the quarter, including a lay-up with 1.9 seconds left in the quarter to push the Cavaliers out front, 85-81.

With 1:51 left in the first quarter, not long after Etan Thomas stepped on to the court for the first time since the Cavaliers blew the Wizards out in Game 1, Thomas made his presence felt when he knocked a driving Larry Hughes to the ground and was whistled for a flagrant 1.

Although the foul didn’t look to be that hard, it did prompt James to run up to Thomas and exchanged some words with the Wizards’ backup center.

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