During the game we were beat over the head with this statistic- the team that wins game one has won 80% of the first round match-ups. So this one is in the bag right? (Wow. That looks dumber than it sounded.)
The Cavaliers earned a hard fought (pun intended) game one victory on Sunday. All the headlines coming into this one were on the verbal war that has gone on between DeShawn Stevenson, Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James and Charles Barkley. (Has does Barkley get his name in these conversations?) But the headlines after this one are about the physical war that took place on the court.
In Bull Durham, Nuke once said he wanted to announce his presence with authority. There is no doubt that the Wizards decided before tip-off that they were going to stand toe to toe with the Cavs and show them they would not be intimidated. Fouls came early, often and hard, particularly when LeBron drove anywhere near the paint. In addition, Antawn Jamison (19 rebounds!) made it his personal mission to keep the rebounding edge close. They accomplished that, as Washington did what many (including myself) thought impossible. They out-rebounded the Cavs. Early on it looked like Brendan Haywood might even get the best of Zydrunas Ilgauskas as he scored 10 of Washington’s first 14 points.
But after a couple of hard fouls, (including a shot to his jaw that wasn’t called a foul) LeBron sent a message to the Wizards- “I’m not intimidated either.” James went on a rampage in the second period that included the dunk that you’ll be seeing for years. Then with a few seconds left on the clock LeBron took a charge at mid-court and got tangled up with Haywood as both players tried to get up. Tempers flared briefly, and, well you be the judge…
Much ado about nothing really, but that could have been a serious situation had LeBron retaliated. Can you imagine this series if LeBron was ejected at the half, and had to sit Monday’s game? Part of me wanted Ben Wallace to shove someone. We certainly wouldn’t have missed his underproduction this afternoon. Jamison absolutely used Wallace like rented bowling shoes. Andy Varejao was only slightly better, but Zydrunas proved me correct by being the go to guy when LeBron sat, finishing with 22 points.
So what needs to change? Well I don’t expect the Cavs to lose the rebounding battle again. (Clears throat, loudly. That’s what my coach always did to get our attention.) Obviously they can’t allow Antawn Jamison to have his way around the basket, or Brendan Haywood to score at will in the post. The Wally Szczerbiak ‘starter’ experiment needs to end. After hitting his first shot, Wally was 1 for 9, and did not play stellar defense. I know that last part isn’t a surprise. Look, I don’t know what’s wrong with Wally. But right now isn’t the time to give him 30 minutes to work it out. I honestly don’t know what Devin Brown did to get in coach’s doghouse, but they need to kiss and make up.
LeBron was terrific down the stretch, finished with 32 points on 12 of 19 shooting. As for Washington’s self-proclaimed ‘fourth quarter assassin’? Arenas and the Wizards shot blanks in the 4th as the Cavs outscored them 28-17 in the last period. Final score Cleveland 93, Washington 86. Like I said, 80% there.
(Photo credit- NBA.com)