- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CLEVELAND — On Saturday, an alley-oop, tomahawk dunk sparked Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James and sealed the Washington Wizards’ fate.

Last night, a different type of slam doomed Washington.

James was driven to the court following a drive, and Wizards center Brendan Haywood was ejected with a flagrant foul, sucking the life out of Washington in a 116-86 loss last night at Quicken Loans Arena.

The defeat put the Cavaliers up 2-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series and gave them their eighth straight playoff victory over the Wizards dating to the 2006 postseason.

“They beat us. We beat ourselves, and their coach kept them disciplined, and this coach couldn’t keep our guys disciplined enough to stay competitive,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said.

The Wizards trailed the Cavaliers 60-41 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter but appeared to be mounting a charge, cutting the deficit to 15 points while Cleveland missed five shots in a two-minute span.

But with 6:59 left in the third, James drove to the basket. Haywood went up and shoved the airborne James out of bounds, extending his arms.

James went crashing to the baseline as his teammates charged toward Haywood. The officials went to the videotape to review the play and ejected Haywood, charging him with a Flagrant 2 foul.

James knocked down both foul shots, and the Cavaliers got the ball back. Point guard Delonte West promptly hit a 3-pointer that gave Cleveland a 70-50 lead with 6:45 left in the third.

James went on to score nine of his team’s final 16 third-quarter points, and the Wizards found themselves in an 86-63 hole as the fourth quarter began. The Cavaliers outscored the Wizards 30-23 in the fourth and posted their largest margin of victory in a playoff game in franchise history.

“[Finishing strong] was the key,” Cavaliers forward Joe Smith said. “LeBron kept saying in huddles that ‘we have got them down. Don’t let up on what we’ve been doing.’ Every timeout he would reiterate that, and we would come out and continue to build on what we did before the timeout.”

James finished with 30 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds to continue his playoff assault on the Wizards. He has averaged 32.5 points in 12 playoff games against Washington spanning the last three postseasons.

“We’re playing the [conference] champions,” Jordan said. “I know they changed their team, but they still have the same coaching staff and they still have — in a respectful way — the monster player. And he is taking over. He is taking over this series.”

The Cavaliers had a total of four double-digit scorers with Zydrunas Ilgauskas finishing as the team’s second-highest scorer with 16 points. He also pulled down nine rebounds.

The Wizards, on the other hand, continued their offensive struggles, shooting just 38 percent from the floor. Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson scored 12 points apiece. Darius Songaila added 12 points off the bench.

Gilbert Arenas, who played despite spraining his right wrist Saturday, finished with seven points on 2-for-10 shooting in 24 minutes. Team captain Antawn Jamison also struggled, finishing with nine points on 4-for-13 shooting.

“They beat us down in this game. … It’s easy for one of us or two of us to have a bad night,” Arenas said of himself, Butler and Jamison. “But when we all three have a bad night, that never equals to a win.”

The Wizards also lost the rebounding battle 49-34 and gave up 40 points in the paint to the Cavaliers.

Washington led Cleveland for the first 10 minutes of the opening quarter before James tied the game 19-19 with a foul shot with 1:35 left. Cleveland took the lead on James’ layup 15 seconds later and went on to lead 27-22 by the time the quarter ended.

The Wizards opened the second quarter with eight unanswered points to reclaim a 30-27 lead. The Wizards remained in front before falling into a cold spell in the final six minutes of the half.

Cleveland tied it at 36-36, and the Wizards shot 1-for-12 to finish the first half. Their only points in the final six minutes of the half came on a 21-footer from Arenas and two foul shots from Butler. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, scored 17 points to close out the half for a 53-40 lead at the break.

The Wizards left Quicken Loans Arena and headed to the airport to fly back to the District. They will have two days to regroup before playing host to the Cavaliers at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

“We’re guaranteed four games,” Jordan said. “We’ve got two at home, and we’ll see if we can lick our wounds, regroup and play a much more disciplined game and play with much more intensity and intelligence when we get back to Washington.”

Said Arenas: “We have to win these next two. The pressure’s on us now. It’s not on them.”

SEEN AND HEARD AT QUICKEN LOANS ARENA

After kicking off the playoffs with a 12:30 p.m. game Saturday — the earliest any of the Wizards players said they had played since AAU or high school ball — they were glad to get back to their normal routine preparing for yesterday’s 7 p.m. tipoff.

“Yes!” DeShawn Stevenson said about being glad to play at night. “So glad!”

Roger Mason Jr. agreed.

“It’s definitely different [playing early], but we’re professional, and you get in what you have to get in early,” Mason said. “But today is back to the norm, and everybody’s happy about that.”

Mason and Stevenson fared a little better than Saturday, when they combined for three points on 1-for-13 shooting. Mason finished with 10 points, and Stevenson had 12. …

Stevenson remained Public Enemy No. 1 last night, still drawing boos from the crowd every time he touched the ball and cheers every time he missed a shot. But unlike Saturday’s game, Stevenson was more accurate from the field.

He really irked the fans when he hit a 3-pointer with LeBron James in his face and then backpedaled down the court doing his customary “I can’t feel my face” gesture. The fans reacted as if Stevenson had pulled down his pants. Later, to get the fans to cheer loudly with Brendan Haywood at the line, the Cavaliers game operations crew replayed Stevenson waving his hand in front of his face while skipping backward down the court.

Mike Jones

BY THE NUMBERS

17-4 Second-quarter run used by the Cavaliers in the final six minutes to build a 53-40 lead at halftime.

191-13 Record of NBA teams in seven-game series after they take a 2-0 lead.

QUOTABLE

“When he steps on the floor, there’s no shot in the gym that’s not in his range.”

— Cleveland’s Delonte West on expecting more deep 3-pointers from Gilbert Arenas after the Washington guard hit a 35-footer over him in Game 1

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Wally Szczerbiak, Cleveland

 The Cavaliers guard went scoreless in the first quarter but found his shot in the second quarter, scoring 10 points to spark Cleveland’s comeback that resulted in them taking a 53-40 halftime lead. The Cavaliers never trailed again.

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