Sun, May 07, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Damon Jones an unlikely hero in big Cavaliers win

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AP , WASHINGTON

Tony Parker, right, of the Spurs, drives to the basket against Mike Bibby of the Kings for two of his game-high 31 points during the third quarter of Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California, on Friday. San Antonio defeated Sacramento 105-83, winning the series 4-2.

PHOTO: EPA

LeBron James rushed toward Damon Jones, leading his flock of Cleveland Cavaliers to jump on top of the most anonymous and unlikely player in the series.

James, the Cavaliers' superstar, had played all 53 minutes on Friday night against the Washington Wizards. Jones, a reserve, had played only the final 14.1 seconds of overtime.

But when James was double-teamed on Cleveland's final play, Jones seized his moment by making a 20-foot jumper from the left corner with 4.8 seconds left, shocking the Wizards and giving the Cavaliers a 114-113 victory.

In capturing the best-of-seven first-round series 4-2, Cleveland advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since 1993. The Cavaliers will face the Detroit Pistons.

"This is probably one of the best feelings I've had in a long time," James said. "It took me two years to get here and to finally be a part of it, I didn't want to just come in here and be happy just to be in the playoffs. I wanted to try and win a series, and we did a great job of doing that."

James had won the game within the game, outlasting his Wizards star counterpart, Gilbert Arenas -- who had hit the improbable 3-pointer to force overtime but then missed two free throws in the extra period to set the stage for Jones. And in the end, the winning shot proved to be as much of a coronation of James as it was an affirmation of James's teammates.

When Jones cried out from the bottom of the celebratory scrum that James was suffocating him, James told him to be quiet. "We're going onto Detroit!" Jones said James yelled into his ear.

Cleveland moves on to play the best team in the league, the Pistons, with the series starting Sunday in Auburn Hills, Michigan. The Wizards, who had battled from behind from Game 1 of this series, could not muster a final comeback.

"D-Jones, the self-proclaimed best shooter in the universe, hit a dagger," James said with a smile, having scored 32 points, including the first five in overtime.

He and Arenas embraced as James walked out of his news conference, the final moment of their memorable duel. Arenas, who had made gutsy plays all series, had shocked the Cavaliers by hitting a 28-foot jumper with 2.3 seconds left in regulation.

But he missed two free throws with 15.1 seconds left in overtime that could have given the Wizards a 3-point lead. Between the first and the second free throws, James brazenly walked over to Arenas at the line and said with eerie prescience:

"If you miss both of those free throws, the game is over, y'all going home," James said.

Arenas admitted to such a conversation, almost giving in to James and his status that dominated this series. "It's his basketball," Arenas said. "I had the chance to seal the game, and I missed both free throws."

With 14.1 seconds left, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown inserted Jones into the game. Jones had made one shot all series and had played no more than seven minutes in a game. He had come to the Cavaliers as a free agent (signing for four years and US$16 million), but after struggling mightily, Jones had lost his spot in the rotation to Flip Murray, a midseason acquisition,

"I just believed in him," Brown said of Jones.

Jones said, "I tried to stay positive for my team and be a professional."

"It was tough, I won't lie," he said about coming in cold in overtime. "I can't say I'm all nails."

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