Ilgauskas Is 3rd to Form Cavs’ 1-2 Punch
Center Complements James With 24
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.