Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron James scored 20 of his 30 during the first half of Saturday's win.
Cleveland 98, Washington 92
WASHINGTON, April 28 (AP) -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are mastering the art of doing just enough to win. This time, they managed to blow a 17-point second-half lead against the short-handed Washington Wizards.
But win the Cavaliers did, so it's hard to argue too much with the results. When the big basket was needed, LeBron James hit a struggling but wide-open Sasha Pavlovic for a 3-pointer in the final minute of Saturday night's 98-92 victory, giving Cleveland a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.
James had his best game of the series with 30 points, nine assists and six rebounds for the Cavaliers, who on Monday can complete the first playoff sweep in franchise history, a result that wouldn't be surprising since the Wizards are missing injured All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.
"We're not playing against a high school team,'' James said. "We're not playing against an NCAA team. It's the NBA. No matter what personnel is on the floor, we have to win the ball game, it's as simple as that. We win by 20, we win by one or we win by six, like we did tonight, a win is a win.
Now can we clean up some things? Yes, definitely. But as far as talking about we're barely getting over the edge? We're up 3-0. We should feel happy about that.''
In an attempt to inspire the crowd and their teammates, Arenas and Butler were introduced with Washington's starting lineup. Arenas gingerly limped down the steps and across the court on his surgically repaired knee as the crowd went wild.
It was a nice try, but the Game 3 followed the script as Games 1 and 2. The Wizards, while competitive, couldn't finish the job. The most glaring statistic was Washington's 6-for-20 shooting in the fourth quarter.
"We just didn't make plays again when we needed to,'' coach Eddie Jordan said. "You spend so much energy (coming back) that a little bit of fatigue sets in and you can't finish the play sometimes.''
Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 24 points and eight rebounds for the Cavaliers, but it was James' passing that helped Cleveland hold on in the final minutes. He fed Drew Gooden for a dunk, Ilgauskas for a jumper and drove to the basket before dishing out to Pavlovic for the 3-pointer that pushed the lead to six with 25 seconds to play.
"I had a good look at it, but Sasha had a better look,'' James said. "It's all about making a better play - and that was the better play. I've done it time and time and time again.''
James said he asked coach Mike Brown to call that specific play, even though Pavlovic was having a rough night.
"I missed all wide-open shots,'' said Pavlovic, who finished 5-for-12 from the field and had five turnovers. "And I'm glad my teammates believed in me and they still kept passing me the ball when I was wide open. I had to make that shot.''
The Wizards had trouble getting a good look on their next possession, and the game was essentially over when Roger Mason missed a 3-pointer.
Antawn Jamison scored a career playoff-high 38 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Wizards. Antonio Daniels, who drove more aggressively to the basket than he did in the first two games, finished with 20 points and 13 assists, and Jarvis Hayes had 15 points.
"They made more plays down the stretch than we did,'' Hayes said. "We played hard, but we just could not get the win. It was very disappointing.''
Washington had hoped the comforts of home would give them the final push needed to beat the Cavaliers, even though the Wizards have lost seven straight at home and haven't won at the Verizon Center since March 28 - the week before Arenas and Butler (hand) were injured.
Instead, the blowout everyone had been expecting in this series seemed finally ready to happen. The Cavaliers outhustled, outrebounded and out-talented the Wizards in the first half to take a 61-44 lead.
To their credit, the Wizards didn't give up. Jamison scored 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the third quarter. Jamison and Jarvis Hayes combined for 19 points and Thomas ripped rebounds with authority in a 21-4 run, with Jamison's putback tying the score at 65 midway through the quarter.
But the Wizards a 4+-minute stretch without scoring during the fourth, allowing the Cavaliers to go on a modest 6-0 run that gave them the lead for good.
"We understood that they would make a run, but to come back from 17 without us really putting up a fight or doing anything to stop those guys is not good basketball on our part,'' said Cleveland's Larry Hughes, who had 11 points and eight rebounds. "But we were able to withstand it, get a little cushion to make it even tougher on them.''
"At times, we do go through a little lax,'' added Hughes. "But I think we're at the point in the season where we definitely have another level that we can tap into - and that's our goal.''
Notes: Washington assistant coach Mike O'Koren missed the game due to illness. ... Wizards G DeShawn Brendan Haywoodup into the first round to take Brady Quinn - a projected high pick who went at No. 22. "He lost a lot of money,'' James said.