Il­gauskas Is 3rd to Form Cavs’ 1-2 Punch

Cen­ter Com­ple­ments James With 24

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - By Michael Lee

Be­fore LeBron James fielded his fourth ques­tion at the podium fol­low­ing the Cleve­land Cav­a­liers’ 98-92 vic­tory last night, he looked over at the 7-foot-3 man seated next to him. “What’d you come here for?” James asked, stone-faced. Zy­drunas Il­gauskas slouched fur­ther into his seat, be­gan rub­bing the hair atop his head and laughed. “I know,” he said. “You only shot 10 for 13 from the field,” James said. “I don’t even know why you’re here.” James shook his head, then shared a hearty laugh with Il­gauskas. The Cav­a­liers seem­ingly have been toy­ing with the Wiz­ards while es­tab­lish­ing a 3-0 lead in the first round of the East­ern Con­fer­ence play­offs, and James’s sup­port­ing cast has been play­ing tag. Larry Hughes was “It” in Game 1, as he scored 27 points. Then Hughes tagged Drew Gooden in Game 2, and Gooden had 24 points and 14 re­bounds. And last night, Gooden passed the hot hand over to Il­gauskas, who had his best post­sea­son game in nine sea­sons with 24 points— one shy of his play­off ca­reer high.

“I don’t have to go out and score 40 or 50 points for my team to win. I did my job in the first half,” said James, who scored 20 of his team-high 30 in the first half be­fore serv­ing as a will­ing dis­trib­u­tor in the fi­nal two quar­ters.

Il­gauskas was at the re­ceiv­ing end of much of James’s gen­eros­ity, and he pro­vided timely buck­ets when­ever the Cav­a­liers needed them. Af­ter the Wiz­ards staged a 21-4 run in the third quar­ter to tie the game at 65, Il­gauskas an­swered with a fast-break layup. When the Wiz­ards tied the score at 81 in the fourth, Il­gauskas hit a 17-foot base­line jumper, then dropped a short hook over Dar­ius Son­gaila to hold off the run.

“We know that we can pen­cil in LB ev­ery night. It’s just a mat­ter if he’s get­ting enough help and, for­tu­nately, we’ve been able to,” Il­gauskas said. “To win a cham­pi­onship, we’re go­ing to have to have ev­ery­body con­trib­ute.”

Il­gauskas also was im­por­tant on the de­fen­sive end. Al­though he failed to record a blocked shot, he altered sev­eral oth­ers and de­liv­ered a hard foul on An­to­nio Daniels in the third pe­riod, draw­ing boos from the sell­out crowd at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter.

“I missed so many games due to in­jury, so I’m not out there try­ing to hurt any­body. I wasn’t go­ing for the head or any­thing,” Il­gauskas said. “I weigh more than him, so that’s why he got the worst of it.”

Il­gauskas is av­er­ag­ing 18.7 points on 21-of-34 shoot­ing (61.8 per­cent) in the se­ries, which has been a stark con­trast to last sea­son, when Il­gauskas strug­gled against the Wiz­ards in the first round, as he was guarded mostly by Bren­dan Hay­wood.

“The whole se­ries, I’ve been get­ting good looks and I’ve been able to cap­i­tal­ize,” Il­gauskas said. “For a big guy, it’s eas­ier to play the game when you get a cou­ple of dunks, a cou­ple layups and a cou­ple tip-ins. It opens up your jump shot and the hoop seems a lot big­ger the next time you shoot. The guys have been find­ing me open shots and I’ve been able to come through to knock them down.”

At the end of the postgame in­ter­view ses­sion, Il­gauskas even earned his spot on podium with James. Il­gauskas was asked if he was con­cerned that the Cav­a­liers have yet to show a killer in­stinct in this se­ries. “This is a tough league, ev­ery­body can play,” Il­gauskas said. “Look at Dal­las-Golden State se­ries. Look at Mi­ami down 0-3. There are no easy teams to play. We’re just happy to be up 3-0.”

“That was a good quote, I like that one,” James said. “I should’ve thought of that one.”


“To win a cham­pi­onship, we’re go­ing to have to have ev­ery­body con­trib­ute,” said Zy­drunas Il­gauskas, who shot 10 of 13.

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