Good Run Just Isn’t Enough

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports -

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.

BY RICHARD A LIP­SKI — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

“To still lose just hurts. It hurts ev­ery­one,” says guard An­to­nio Daniels, whose Wiz­ards dropped their third straight to Cleve­land this post­sea­son.

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