WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Gilbert Arenas could see the numbers piling up on the scoreboard for LeBron James, and could feel the opening-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers - and the season itself - slipping away for the Washington Wizards last night at Verizon Center.
Having already made several statements about his place in the NBA's hierarchy of stars this season, Arenas might have made his biggest one in leading the Wizards to a crucial 106-96 victory over James and the Cavaliers in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series. Game 5 is Wednesday night.
Playing all 48 minutes, Arenas overcame a horrendous start to finish with 34 points, 20 in the fourth quarter. James scored a game-high 38, three shy of his playoff high set in Game 3, but he failed to score in the third quarter after setting franchise playoff records with 18 first-quarter points and 25 points in the first half.
"This is LeBron's world, we're just all witnesses," said Arenas, playfully mocking the ad campaign Nike has put together for Cleveland's 21-year old superstar.
Said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan: "When Gilbert gets going, we all feed off of him."
Aside from Arenas changing everything from his uniform and compression shorts to his socks and sneakers at halftime, the key for the Wizards might have come in Jordan's decision to throw out his structured Princeton offense and go with more freelancing in the second half.
Trailing by 11 points at halftime and by as many as 13 early in the second half, the Wizards went on a 40-17 run to take a 90-80 lead.
Arenas, who had missed eight of the nine shots he had taken in a six-point first half and 11 of his first 13 overall, said, "It's easier playing from behind because you have nothing to lose. At halftime coach said, 'Throw away the plays.' To us, it was like playing outside."
Unlike James, who after getting an early lift from reserve guard Flip Murray (19 points), Arenas received plenty of help. Antawn Jamison, who had shot horrendously for much of the series, finished with 22 points, 16 in the first half, to go along with 10 rebounds. Caron Butler added 21.
Unlike most in attendance, Arenas didn't think he was having an off night in the first half and early in the third quarter.
"The way my shots were falling - in and out, short, missing easy layups, it wasn't like I was having a bad day," said Arenas, who finished 8-for-20 overall, including 4-for-7 on three-pointers. "I was just missing easy shots I normally make."
Meanwhile, James looked as if he would have an incredible night, perhaps even an NBA playoff record night. But after hitting six of his first seven shots, including four of five three-pointers, and nine of 14 overall in the first half, James inexplicably stopped looking at the basket in the third quarter.
"They switched their defense up and started running Gilbert Arenas at me, so I didn't want to force anything," said James, who missed all three shots he attempted in the quarter. "I gave the ball up and we just missed some open shots. They also hit their shots, which helps a lot."
James finished 13 of 23 from the field, and set yet another franchise playoff record with seven three-point shots in 12 attempts. But he also committed seven turnovers and had four offensive fouls that he indicated might have been the referees heeding Washington's plea for even-handed officiating.
"It seemed like they tried to take my aggressiveness away," said James. "I've probably been called for more offensive fouls in this series than in all 82 games combined. I think they want me to settle for my outside shot, but I have to keep being aggressive because that's the type of player I am."