- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

Antonio Daniels walked of the Verizon Center court bleary-eyed while holding his head up and staring toward seemingly nowhere in particular. The veteran had a tough time accepting congratulations on a stellar game as his team ultimately came up short.

“The toughest thing in the world is putting it all out there on the floor and losing,” said Daniels, the Washington Wizards point guard who finished with 20 points, 13 assists and four rebounds. “We fought hard, and we will not quit.”

The 32-year old helped spark an incredible comeback that saw the Wizards erase a 17-point halftime deficit.

The 6-foot-4 Daniels tied the game at 81-81 with 9:06 left after dribbling behind his back, stepping back and dropping a 15-foot jumper over 6-foot-10 Anderson Varejao. The 10-year veteran set a career playoff high for assists in his 68th postseason game after bringing a somewhat new approach to a team in desperate need with All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler out with injuries.

Daniels was the driving force for the Wizards by routinely penetrating in the paint and creating for himself and others. The 205-pounder even banged up his left ankle trying to defend LeBron James. It was one of numerous times he absorbed blows as he regularly ventured into the paint.

“It was just the fact of being aggressive,” he said. “It was just going out there and trying to make things happen for myself and my teammates. I have given up a couple of opportunities for myself to try to get guys involved and Coach [Eddie] Jordan told me to try to be a little bit more aggressive, try to make things happen, get to the rim and the foul line a little bit and try to get guys involved.”

Daniels — who helped San Antonio win the NBA title in 1999 — also provided veteran leadership for the Wizards at halftime.

“It was extremely quiet,” Daniels said. “I was just looking at different guys in the eyes to see who was ready to go and who wasn’t and what not. Like I said, on paper we are not supposed to win. But you cannot measure the heart of a team.”

Forgetting “Z”

Cleveland’s James was peppered with questions in the post-game interview. After taking several, the superstar looked to his right on the podium and addressed the man who had not said a word yet.

“What are you doing here?” James said to Zydrunas Ilgauskas. “You shoot 10-for-13 from the field. I don’t even know why you’re here, Z.”

Ilgauskas, known as “Z,” put on another strong performance even if he was not asked to say much. The 7-foot-3 center posted 24 points and often found himself open for jumpers after James drew double-teams. James fed Ilgauskas for a clear 17-footer with 2:45 left to open up the Cavaliers’ tenuous lead to 93-86.

The giant was also a factor on the defensive end by altering shots in the lane. Ilguaskas had his second big game of the series after scoring 16 — including 11 in the fourth quarter — in Game 1.

“Most of the looks have come from outside,” said Ilgauskas, who struggled in last season’s playoff series with the Wizards. “Last year, they did a good job on me defensively. Most of my looks from last year came from the post. Now my jump shot is feeling pretty good, so I am stepping out on the floor. I have been playing off LeBron and helping LeBron. I am able to find an open shot and just shoot it with confidence.”

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