Good Run Just Isn’t Enough
On the night the season all but expired, Antonio Daniels found Antawn Jamison in the training room at halftime. Two veterans, 19 years of experience between them, having a conversation about pride and purpose after a humiliating first 24 minutes of basketball.
“I told him: ‘We got to leave it all on the floor. We got to play with a passion to try and lead us back. No matter whether our shots fall or not, what comes of it is what comes of it.’ ”
Jamison nodded, spoke his own peace, and turned in the most scintillating performance of his Wizards career. In a riveting third quarter, old man ’Twan essentially outdueled young
buck LeBron. He let fly floaters from beyond 24 feet, dropped in a few off-the-wrong-foot runners — those circa-1980s, Bernard King specials. He threw down a nasty dunk as if he were 21 instead of almost 31.
Seventeen points for Jamison in 12 quick minutes, the time it took to erase almost all of that unsightly, first-half deficit. Daniels dished, Jarvis Hayes delivered from the perimeter and Etan Thomas flexed his biceps and his pectorals like he wanted a piece of someone from Cleveland. Seemed no one missed in that third quarter, and for one of the few times in the past month the Phone Booth crackled with noise and hope.
And that was that, perhaps the last great moment of this maddening season.
It began with so much unfulfilled promise and now will end with so much more unfinished business. It ends with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler sidelined in coat and tie and LeBron and his not-yet polished teammates using the Wizards for a springboard to something better.
We want to make this about Cleveland’s inability to finish off a reeling opponent, because elite teams are not supposed to let watered-down rosters back into playoff games. We want to make this about Washington’s abysmal first half, two hideous quarters of basketball that ended with boos cascading down from the rafters. But Wizards-Cavaliers II is about neither. This series has always been about one team showing up at the park with more skill and size than the other.
Not all of Jamison’s pretty jumpers, not all of Daniels’s playmaking, not even the sense of urgency that finally emerged in the last 24 minutes mattered. One squad had its all-star healthy, the other was missing two. End of story. End of series.
The moment a team falters in postseason, the NBA playoffs suddenly become about what a team can’t do rather than what it can — what a player’s limitations are rather than the gifts he has. Rather than look long and hard how Golden State has discombobulated Dallas with tempo and tenacity, rather than give the defensive Bulls their offensive due, those series become referendums on the two teams in last year’s NBA Finals.
The demise of Dirk Nowitzki, Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal becomes perception when the reality is the Warriors and the Bulls have done something to put the Heat on the brink and the Mavericks in jeopardy.
LeBron James has yet to score more than 30 points in this series after averaging 36 points per game against the Wizards a year ago. In many quarters, it is assumed James has lost some of his dominance. In reality, a 22-year-old is letting the ball do the work for him. His pass to Sasha Pavlovic for the clinching three-pointer in Game 3 was the sign of a gun of great renown trusting in his teammate to win the game.
The reason Drew Gooden is having a tremendous series, why Larry Hughes has room to shoot and drive, is that LeBron draws so much attention. A year later, he beat the Wizards again. But this time, it’s been more economical, less of a toll on his body.
“Our situation is where we want to be,” Hughes said. “You see our bracket and we’re 3-0. How much better can you get? The only thing that we’re lacking is that killer [instinct]. Once we get them down stay on top of them.”
In the other locker room, Daniels was lamenting another loss. He mentioned the word “passion’ four times in conjunction with Jamison, Coach Eddie Jordan, his teammates and the fans. “It becomes contagious when you see a player like Antawn playing like that, wanting it so bad,” Daniels said. “To still lose just hurts. It hurts everyone.”
They gave it a good run on Saturday night, maybe the last good run of the season. And if they didn’t know before Game 3, they have to know now: The moment they got to the park, the deck was stacked against them.
“To still lose just hurts. It hurts everyone,” says guard Antonio Daniels, whose Wizards dropped their third straight to Cleveland this postseason.