Game 6. Wizards vs. Cavaliers. The Golden Child. Verizon Center. Do or die.
LeBron James has been in the league three years now. He was picked number 1 by Cleveland right out of high school. The hype was unbelievable. This was the new Jordan. People had been calling him "King James". And people were waiting to see him fail. No one's that good right out of high school. Kobe, Kevin, Tracy. All these guys took a little while before they were that good.
His first year, he averaged 21 points a game. This was just under what Michael Jordan averaged when he played with the Wizards. That number went up to 27 points a game, and this year, it was 31 points a game. He was only behind Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson.
In game 5, played in Cleveland, Washington looked poised to steal a game. After being down a bunch of points at the end of the game, the Wizards clawed back to tie it and send it to overtime. In overtime, Arenas hit two free throws to put the Wizards up by 1, with 3 seconds left. Surely, a win for the Wizards.
LeBron sliced and diced to make a game-winning layup, which some felt sure was travelling. With less than a second left, rather than call time out, the Wizards decided to go with the play, which lead to desperation heave by Arenas that missed. A time out would have meant inbounding the ball at half court. 0.9 seconds doesn't seem like a lot, but in basketball, people know exactly how long it takes to get a shot off, whether you can dribble or not. 0.9 seconds is enough time to get a decent shot off, admittedly hurriedly. You're not going to dawdle, but it's within the bounds of reason in basketball.
Somehow, with a lead of a few points going into the final minute, the Wizards couldn't make plays, and soon found itself down by 3 points with 5 seconds left. I went to watch the game with a group of about 8, including myself. Surely, I had the cheapest seats in the house. We were as far back as you can possibly be. During time outs, they were releasing mini-parachutes with gifts. Needless to say, these come nowhere near the second tier, and we're on the fourth tier up.
No one sat behind us, that's how far back we were. I had to identify players the old-fashioned way. I had to look at the numbers. LeBron's 23? Oh, yes, like Jordan. Arenas is 0. Which one is Brendan? Did he really score that many points?
By the final minute, we were standing, hoping the Wizards could somehow stay in the game. But with five seconds left and needing a 3-point shot, it didn't look that good. In college, where players are far less accurate, that would generally be a win. Even in the pros, it's usually good enough for a win.
Arenas took a shot, it seemed ten feet behind the three point arc, and we saw it loft, and hit its mark, the net whipping after ball made contact. The crowd was in a frenzy. We were chanting "MVP", "MVP", "MVP". Arenas was going to push it one more game.
And it went to overtime. And it seemed that the Wizards would at least push it to a second overtime. Arenas was fouled. The Wizards were up by 1. He would have two chances to push that lead to 3. That third point would guarantee, short of a freak foul on a made 3-point shot, that there would, at worth, be overtime 2, and at best a win. Cleveland had yet to show they had the same kind of clutch long-distance throwing that typifies Arenas.
Arenas, an 80-percent free-throw shooter missed the first shot. James then came over and told him if he missed the second shot, they were going to lose the game, a bold statement given the Wizards were still up by 1.
Seemingly baffled, Arenas proceeded to miss his second free throw. As they came back to the other end of the court, the Wizards tried to force someone else besides LeBron to win the game as he had twice in the series. Double-teamed, he whipped the ball to ex-Wizard Hughes, who then passed it to Damon Jones, who had been in the game all of 14 seconds, when he lofted a 2-point shot that found its target. The Wizards brought the ball the other direction, and was unable to make another shot.
And it was over.
Just like that. Three games decided on last minute shots. Two games decided in overtime by a point. Three games to the Cavaliers. The Wizards could have won 4-1. As it was, they lost 4-2. And so the Cavaliers have the honor of playing the Pistons.
The Pistons are no longer coached by Larry Brown, who had a fallout and divorce with the team when he had been interested in interviewing for the Cleveland president, given his health problems, which might leave him unable to coach. The Pistons braintrust didn't care for this disloyalty. Brown's always been criticized for being antsy at whatever place he is, wanting to go elsewhere.
Brown eventually found himself a new job as head coach of the Knicks, and lead them to an abysmal season, perhaps the result of the players not buying into Brown's coaching, despite his success with the Sixers and Detroit.
Flip Saunders took over the helm and the Pistons were better than ever. In the early parts of the season, it looked as if the Pistons might challenge the Bull's gaudy 72 game win record in the 1995-1996 season. Detroit finished 64-18, some 8 games short of this record.
It's expected, unlike the Wizards, that the Pistons will play defense, and the free-wheeling high scoring excesses of the Wizards-Cavaliers series will give way to a slower paced, lower scoring game. The Pistons are heavily favored to win this series (as they would have been against the Wizards, despite the Wizards having a great record against the Pistons).
We walked down the many flights of stairs, and headed with the rather subdued mob of fans. At the bottom, we hung out for a few minutes, talked a little about the game. Then, I took the Metro on a rather long ride back up to the Shady Grove Metro. The new warnings were being used. After years of hearing "Doors are closing, please step clear of the doors", there's a harsher warning, more beeps from the door. We were stopped twice as they were on a single rail in both directions.
I got back to Shady Grove sometime past midnight, then spent a little while at work, then drove back, and didn't get home until 2 AM. It was late. The game was over. It was time to sleep.
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