Caron Butler scored the game-winner with 3.2 seconds to play on Wednesday as the Washington Wizards beat Cleveland 88-87 to stay alive in the NBA playoffs.
With the nail-biting victory, the Wizards fended off elimination, narrowing the gap in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series to 3-2.
Game 6 will be in Washington on Friday.
The top-seeded Celtics earned a key 110-85 victory over the upstart Atlanta Hawks to take a 3-2 lead in a series that moves back to Atlanta today.
Paul Pierce scored 22 points with seven rebounds and six assists to lead Boston.
In Cleveland, Cavaliers star LeBron James had a chance to respond to Butler’s driving layup and seal the series, but his own drive into a crowded lane ended with his shot rolling off the rim as time expired.
“I was able to get to the rim, but I just missed the layup,” he said.
Asked if he thought he was fouled, however, James said: “Yes.”
No foul was called, but Butler put his own celebration on hold to be sure.
“When I saw the ball that [James] shot rolling on the rim, I thought, ‘This is our season right here,’” Butler said. “Then everyone started jumping around and celebrating, but I didn’t celebrate yet ... I thought they might have blown a whistle and wanted to review it, but once I saw everyone going to the locker room, I started celebrating.”
Butler scored 28 points for the Wizards, who claimed their first victory in Cleveland since 2006.
“Caron is strong enough and skilled enough to beat good defense and he’s smart enough and veteran enough to know when to make a play,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said.
Said James: “He made a tough shot. He played a phenomenal game tonight. He put them on his back.”
The Wizards won despite the absence of Gilbert Arenas, who will miss the rest of the playoffs resting his surgically repaired left knee. He had missed 69 games during the regular season.
“Gilbert’s a great player, he’s our closer, he’s a franchise guy,” Butler said. “But during the course of the season, we learned to play without him.”
The Cavaliers, who led by five points with less than two minutes to play, couldn’t close out the game to clinch the series.
James finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, but the team shot just 36 percent from the field.
“We put the ball in our best player’s hands and we told him to go make a play, like he has for us many times before,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said of his team’s final possession.
In Boston, Pierce shrugged off controversy to lead the Celtics, who also had 20 points from Kevin Garnett and 19 from Ray Allen.
Pierce had struggled in consecutive defeats in Atlanta, where the Celtics gave up a combined 199 points in two games.
In addition to making just three of 14 shots from inside 3-point range, Pierce provoked Hawks fans with a gesture considered by some to be a street gang symbol during Game 3.
Pierce was fined US$25,000 and released a pregame statement on Wednesday after a Boston clergyman called him out in a newspaper article for promoting gang life.
Pierce then scored 10 points with four rebounds and three assists in the first quarter alone.
Boston took a 58-43 lead into the second half, but a cold-shooting spell ala the Hawks close to 60-54.
The Celtics responded with a 21-10 run.
Joe Johnson scored 21 points and Josh Smith added 18 for the Hawks, who head home for game six on Friday well aware that the first five games of the series have been won by the home team.