As if the 2008-09 season hasn’t already been a long series of nightmares for the Washington Wizards and their fans, Thursday night in Cleveland just added to the misery. The Cleveland Cavaliers snatched away a 93-89 victory in the final minute of regulation leaving the Wizards feeling like a child that had candy taken from his grasp.
Washington outscored Cleveland in the first quarter and trailed by only two at the halftime break. Recently acquired guard Mike James exploded for 26 points with pinpoint accuracy from beyond the arc (five of eight) while Antawn Jamison chipped in 28 points and Caron Butler added ten rebounds. Taking the lead in the third quarter and putting together a late 7-0 run in the fourth quarter didn’t turn out to be enough for the reeling Wizards.
After a three point bucket with 1:39 from Antawn Jamison gave Washington a commanding 89-82 lead, they would fail to score another point. LeBron James cut the lead to four by hitting three free throws, courtesy of a very questionable foul call on the attempt by Caron Butler. On the following possession, Jamison was called for an offensive foul on James, giving Cleveland the possession with 1:15 to play. The Cavaliers did not hesitate to take advantage.
Mo Williams buried a 24 foot three point jumper off of a James assist, narrowing the deficit to a single point, 89-88 with 1:01 to play. After a pair of missed shots by both teams, Anderson Varejao drew a loose ball foul on none other than Antawn Jamison, his sixth and final foul of the game, sending the forward to the bench while Varejao calmly put the Cavaliers up for good with two free throws.
Following a Butler turnover, Mo Williams sunk two more free throws giving the Cavaliers a three point lead with less than 10 seconds remaining. Though Mike James had been hot all night, his errant three point attempt fell short. The Cavaliers came away with the rebound and a Delonte West free throw ended the contest, sending the Wizards home with a 93-89 loss.
The loss was undoubtebly one of the most frustrating of the season, especially given the circumstances and questionable officiating at the end. LeBron James scored a bucket and got the foul call on Jamison, despite replays showing very little contact on the part of the Wizards’ forward. Further damage was caused when James attempted a three point shot, and was again given the benefit of the foul call despite minor contact—after the shot was attempted—by the defending Caron Butler.
Both calls came back to haunt Washington as Jamison’s presence was missed in the final minute of the game on offense and the easy three points with the clock stopped seemed to kill any momentum that Washington had gathered.
To add to the disappointment and frustration was the fact that Cleveland always seems to get the benefit of officiating in contests with Washington, dating back over the three years the two teams have squared off in the playoffs. Thursday night was no different as Cleveland attempted 26 free throws to just seven by Washington; more than triple the count.
The Wizards dropped to 4-23, but hope to have an easier time on Saturday with the 3-26 Oklahoma City Thunder visiting the Nation’s Capital. Despite the loss, Washington came away knowing that they were a few bad calls away from knocking off one of the best teams in the league, on the road, on national television.
To add to the glass half full mentality, Mike James had a breakout game as the starting point guard and showed that he is still capable of scoring bursts that he displayed in Toronto when he averaged over 20 points per game.
Christmas came and went for the Wizards with nothing but overall disappointment and an empty feeling—quite fitting for the way things have gone in a year the team would love to forget.