- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2008

The Washington Wizards fell short in their quest to even their Eastern Conference first-round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers yesterday and fell 100-97 on a 3-pointer from point guard Delonte West with 5.4 seconds left on the clock.

With the loss, the Wizards slipped into a 3-1 hole and need a win Wednesday in Cleveland — where they are 0-4 this season and 0-5 in the postseason the last three years — to avoid elimination.

“We’re going into the tiger’s den,” Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said. “They’re going to pull out the tricks now. They’re going to have the crowd ready. They’re up 3-1. It’s all or nothing now. You’ve just got to go in there and fight. We’ve got to go in there poised, calm and together.”

Arenas, who made his second straight start but was quiet for most of the game, had a chance to force overtime for the Wizards.

Less than a minute after he hit an off-balance, turnaround jumper off the glass to tie the score at 97-97, Arenas had the ball at the top of the key while being guarded by West.

Arenas — still hobbled by a bone bruise and pinched nerve in his surgically repaired left knee — took two dribbles and a step forward and brushed up against West. Arenas hesitated while going backward then dribbled once more and launched the 3-point attempt. But his shot glanced off the rim to give the Cavaliers the victory.

“I think I should have shot the first time,” Arenas said. “When I bumped him off I should’ve shot. But I don’t really like fading back on my shots. I like going forward. Looking at it I was like, ‘I could’ve shot, but I don’t really like that shot.’ ”

Arenas and the Wizards possibly could have avoided the situation had they managed to do a better job rebounding and limiting the Cavaliers’ second-chance scoring opportunities.

Cleveland boasted a 51-31 rebounding advantage over Washington, and the edge translated into 20 second-chance points by the Cavaliers as opposed to just six by the Wizards.

The deficiency made up for the fact that Washington had five players — led by Antawn Jamison’s 23 points — score in double digits and shot 45.7 percent from the field. Cleveland, meanwhile, had only three double-digit scorers and shot 41 percent on the night.

“Total domination on the glass today,” said LeBron James, who led Cleveland with 34 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. “We outrebounded them by 20, and they outshot us. When you don’t shoot well from the field, you have to make up for it somehow, and we did.”

What helped the Cavaliers was the size advantage they held when the Wizards went to a smaller lineup in an attempt to generate more offense. And even when Washington coach Eddie Jordan reinserted starting center Brendan Haywood (six rebounds) and 6-foot-11 forward Andray Blatche (one rebound), the Cavaliers didn’t relent. In addition to James’ 12 rebounds, forward Ben Wallace grabbed 12, fellow forward Joe Smith added eight and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas added seven.

Jamison was the only Wizards player with more than six rebounds, pulling down 11.

Poor perimeter defense also stifled the Wizards’ efforts. They appeared to have found the recipe for success in the second quarter, using a zone defense to trap James and limit his drives to the basket, but the Cavaliers started striking from 3-point range with the middle of the floor clogged up.

Then late in the game, the Wizards — who had erased a 13-point third-quarter deficit — kept pulling within two or three points only to have their momentum stonewalled by clutch 3-pointers from Cleveland guards West and Daniel Gibson. West had five 3-pointers (three in the fourth quarter), Gibson had four (three in the fourth quarter) and James finished with three.

West’s biggest came when James drove and found him in the corner for the game-winner.

“You want Delonte and Gibson — the role players — to beat you,” Arenas said. “But you don’t want them to have career nights and LeBron to score 34. You don’t expect to win. They outrebounded us 18-6 offensively. Had 20 second-chance points.”

The Wizards hit the practice court and film sessions today and tomorrow trying to find a way to correct the errors that proved so costly in Game 4.

History isn’t on their side. Only eight of the 174 teams in NBA history that have fallen behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have rebounded to advance to the next round.

“The most important thing is that everything this whole season comes down to one game,” Jamison said. “As long as I am the captain, we are always going to believe we can win. We are going to stay focused. Our heads are not down. It’s tough to lose a game like that after you fought back. But we have to do the exact same thing they did. We have to keep our composure, control the boards and find a way to win on the road.”

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