- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

For the Washington Wizards, there indeed is no place like home.

After falling behind 0-2 in their Eastern Conference first round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wizards turned Game 3 into a party and rolled to an 108-72 victory last night at Verizon Center.

Five players scored in double digits. DeShawn Stevenson rediscovered his touch from 3-point range and had rapper Soulja Boy sitting courtside, wearing his jersey while doing the Wizards guard’s celebratory move, waving his hand in front of his face after each big shot. And 20,173 fans decked out in white serenaded Cleveland forward LeBron James with chants of “O-ver-rated” as the Wizards won by the largest margin in franchise history.

Photos: Wizards get one back

The 36-point win was the largest margin of victory in the playoffs for the Washington franchise in 30 years. The Bullets defeated Seattle 117-82 in Game 6 of the 1978 NBA Finals.

The win — the Wizards’ first in the playoffs in two years — also snapped an eight-game postseason losing streak to the Cavaliers dating to the 2005-06 campaign.

“I don’t know where to start,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “It was a great effort defensively. …We got stops. We ran. We got our tempo going. We got our defense to be disruptive as we could get. That’s the way we’re used to playing; getting in the passing lanes. … We stayed organized offensively and played with a lot of intensity.”

Stevenson led the Wizards with 19 points, including five 3-pointers. Roger Mason Jr. scored 18 points off the bench and Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison added 17 and 15 points, respectively. Center Brendan Haywood contributed 14 points.

“We played good team basketball,” Butler said. “That’s something we emphasized, that we’ve just got to move the ball and trust the offense. We did a great job of that tonight.”

The Wizards shot 52.1 percent from the floor and outscored Cleveland 46-30 in the paint. On the defensive end they forced the Cavaliers into 23 turnovers and converted them to 30 points.

“They really turned up the pressure defensively,” James said. “They caught us off guard a couple of times. Coach Eddie Jordan really had a great game plan.”

After giving up on average of 31 points to James in the first two games, the Wizards limited the Cleveland star to 22 points on 10-for-19 shooting; James missed all four 3-point attempts.

And the win came despite having to play much of the game without Gilbert Arenas, who left in the first half with a bruised left knee.

Arenas started the game — his first start since Nov. 16 — but went to the bench after suffering the injury with 5:57 left in the first quarter and the score tied at 10-10.

But the Wizards closed the quarter on an 11-7 to lead 21-17 heading into the second quarter.

Mason gave his team a spark, scoring seven unanswered points to spark a 13-5 run that gave the Wizards 34-12 lead with 5:30 left in the first half.

The Cavaliers pulled within nine points with 3:37 left in the half. But the Wizards went on another run. Center Brendan Haywood knocked down a hook shot over Cleveland’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas and then scored on the next trip down the court on a reverse layup. The plays started an 11-6 burst that gave Washington a 49-33 halftime lead.

The Wizards stretched their lead to 20 points in the first three minutes of the third quarter and it became 29 four minutes later when Caron Butler poked the ball away from James and raced the length of the floor for a breakaway dunk.

With 25 seconds left in the third quarter, James stepped to the line and the home fans started cheering “O-ver-rated!” James couldn’t help but laugh and missed the foul shot much to the delight of the Wizards faithful. James continued to chuckle as he jogged back down the court, but quickly came up with a steal and scored on a breakaway dunk to quiet the fans. James didn’t gesture or call to the crowd, however, as his Cavaliers still trailed 77-51.

Then, the celebration got going in the fourth quarter.

During a timeout with just under nine minutes left in the game, Stevenson’s guest of honor, Soulja Boy — the one-hit wonder James had compared Stevenson to — was put up on the big screen and danced to “Crank Dat.” Stevenson came out from the intermission and knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, bringing the crowd to its feet.

On the next trip down the court, Butler drove the lane and scored on an acrobatic layup, putting his team up 91-61 with 6:50 to play. He got knocked to the ground, but paused to mimic Soulja Boy’s dance before rising from the floor.

The Wizards continued to cruise and twice led by 39 points before the conclusion of the game.

“It was a good, ole fashion behind kicking,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “You’ve got to give Washington credit. They came out, they were the aggressors. I thought the first two games, we were pretty aggressive, but I thought tonight, they came out with the right mindset, the crowd was terrific for them.”

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