- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2006

On a night when Gilbert Arenas was serenaded with chants of “MVP” for the first time all season, he probably left Verizon Center last night feeling like the GOAT.

With time expiring and Arenas looking at a wide-open 3-pointer after his defender and good friend Larry Hughes fell down in front of him, Arenas missed a potential game-winner with time expiring. The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a 97-96 win and took a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series in front of 20,173.

“It went in and it came out,” Arenas said. “You are going to miss more than you make in your career. I missed that one but I am going to have more opportunities. Then there will be some happiness. I really thought it was going in. That’s a shot I feel comfortable taking.”

And while Arenas’ miss was major, so to was the performance of Cleveland’s LeBron James.

James, who probably had nightmares about the 10 turnovers he committed in Cleveland’s Game 2 loss, erased that with 41 points on 16-for-28 shooting last night. No basket was bigger than the shot he banked in with 5.7 seconds left to give the Cavaliers back the lead.

Coming out of the timeout following the play, Arenas, who finished with 34 points and six turnovers, in-bounded the ball and then got it back. In the process, Hughes — a First-Team All-NBA Defensive Team player last year — slipped right in front of Arenas, giving the Wizard perhaps the best look at a 3-pointer that he had all night long.

“We have to let it seep out and get over it,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “And as the night goes along and it turns into a long morning we have to come back together and go to work and win a game on Sunday.”

After a few days of talking about the Wizards’ new-found toughness, it was Cleveland that was the tougher team. The Cavaliers battled back from 14 points down, and they were the much more poised team when it mattered the most.

After giving up 58 points in the first half they clamped on the Wizards in the second, holding them to just 13 points in the third quarter and 38 in the second half. Arenas provided 21 of them.

They held Antawn Jamison (14 points, 10 rebounds) without a field goal in the second half. And while Caron Butler did finish with 20 points, the Cavaliers aggressive defense produced 10 steals.

And before Arenas missed that big jumper, the Wizards had every opportunity to take a 2-1 advantage in this series.

But James, who took some shelling following his 10-turnover performance following Game 2, would not let his team down.

On his decisive basket, he beat the smaller Antonio Daniels and scored on a hanging bank shot against the much more physical Michael Ruffin.

“LeBron James is just special,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “It was a heck of and effort by him. With him, at the end of a ball game you have to pick you poison. If you don’t come and double him he’s going to make the right play. Nobody came to double; he drove the ball to the rim, took a hard hit and still finished his shot.

While James had 22 points by halftime and looked completely unfazed by the 10 turnovers he committed in his team’s Game 2 home loss, the rest of his teammates were mostly invisible through the first 24 minutes.

This was not the case for the Wizards.

Washington opened the game hot, forging an 11-point lead in the first quarter and boosting it up as high as high as 14 points with just over two minutes to play in the first half.

While Cleveland at times had trouble converting a basket, things went smoothly for Washington, which scored 58 points and made better than 55 percent of its field goals.

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