WASHINGTON -- Damon Jones? Damon freakin' Jones?
World's greatest cameo crusher
After all the drama, the last-minute heroics, the stagger-and-surge momentum shifts, the LeBron James-Gilbert Arenas scoring duel, the bevy of big mistakes and the bushel of even bigger plays, a nail-biting game in a thisclose playoff series came down to a guy better known for his fashion-forward style and comic touch on Shaquille O'Neal's reality show? A guy who played exactly 14 seconds and took exactly one shot?
James moves on from his first-ever playoff series. He has Jones to thank. The Cleveland Cavaliers win their first playoff series in what seems like forever, and they have Jones to thank.
Really, what else would you expect from the player James calls the self-proclaimed Best Shooter in the Universe?
"He hit," James said, "a dagger."
Did Jones ever. With less than five seconds remaining in overtime and the Cavs trailing the Washington Wizards by a point, Jones calmly buried a jump shot from the left corner, giving the Cleveland a 114-113 victory and a Sunday appointment with the Detroit Pistons.
Flick. Swish. Just like that. Damon Jones, the guy who subsequently was dogpiled by his teammates at midcourt, the guy who later stood in the cramped Verizon Center visitor's locker room with a towel around his waist and television cameras in his face.
Damon freakin' Jones. Robert Horry for a night.
As the tape recorders pressed forward, Jones was asked a simple question. How did he feel?
"I'm just glad they put me in the game," he said with a laugh.
Jones was joking. Er, sort of. After all, his jumper didn't just send the Wizards home for the summer -- it boosted his postseason scoring average from 0.6 points per game to 0.66 ppg, a jump that is maybe, just maybe mathematically significant.
Though Jones hit a last-second game-winner against Toronto earlier this season -- and helped eliminate Washington with clutch, timely shooting while playing for Miami during last year's playoffs -- he hardly saw the floor during the first five games of the series, making a single three-pointer in just 23 minutes of playing time.
No matter. Jones was undeterred. Which is exactly why Cleveland GM Danny Ferry acquired Jones in the first place, and exactly why Cavs coach Mike Brown put him in with 14 seconds remaining.
"[Jones] helped us get to where we are," Brown said.
"A lot of things I've done this year, I've done on a gut feeling. Tonight, I just had a gut feeling that I wanted to rotate Damon into the lineup for that last possession. He's a pro's pro."
Fittingly, Jones wasn't the first option on Cleveland's last play. Nor was he the second. The plan? Get the ball to James and his 36.4 ppg playoff scoring average, preferably in the post.
When the Wizards cut James off -- forcing him to receive a pass above the arc, then springing an immediate double team -- James flipped the ball to Larry Hughes, who found an open Jones in the corner.
Bang. The amped-up building went offline. Jones didn't so much as pump his fist.
"No fear," he said. "No fear. You're either the hero or the goat. Tonight, I was the hero."
For a time, it seemed that Arenas would play that role, almost willing Washington to victory with a game-high 36 points -- none bigger than a deep three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining that sent the contest into overtime, the crowd into delirium and the Cavs into near-despair.
"It was almost like the Titanic," James said. "It was like the ship almost sunk. He shot it from where the ESPN booth was at -- where Hubie Brown and those guys were sitting. It was unbelievable."
More unbelievable were the shots Arenas missed: a pair of free throws with 15.1 seconds left in overtime that would have given the Wizards a three-point lead.
As Arenas stepped to the line, James approached. He opened his mouth to speak, placing a hand on Arenas' left shoulder.
If you miss both of these free throws, the game is over.
Walking out of Cleveland's subsequent timeout huddle, the Golden Child was still smiling.
"It's hard to swallow," Arenas said. "I feel like I let my team down, my city down . . . there's always going to be opportunities. I can't let these two free throws dictate the rest of my career. There's next year, the Olympic Trials coming up. I hope I make that team. Give me two free throws at the end of that."
In the meantime, give the ball to Jones. As Cleveland's locker room emptied out, a reporter ambled up to his locker.
Damon, are you really the Greatest Shooter of All Time?
"Oh, no. Who told you that?"
"I tell people all the time I'm the best shooter in the world. If I didn't think so, who would? But I'm not the best shooter in the universe."
"Just the world. The universe is too much."
For one night, at least, the world was plenty.
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Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Having not yet played a full minute, Damon Jones launches the shot that ended up giving the Cavs a 114-113 OT win.
• Lakers coach Phil Jackson is 14-0 all-time in first round series; 44-0 all-time when having a series lead at any point in the series.
• Thursday's loss was the fourth time in Jackson's career he's lost consecutive potential series clinchers as a head coach.
• Home teams have won 75 of the 92 (81.5 percent) previous Game 7s in NBA history. They were 2-2 in last year's playoffs.
• Jackson is coaching in his seventh Game 7 (he's 4-2) and Suns coach Mike D'Antoni is coaching in his first.
• The Lakers are 13-7 in Game 7s. They've won five straight and eight of their last nine Game 7s. They haven't dropped a Game 7 since losing at Boston in the 1984 NBA Finals.
• The Suns are (2-5) and are playing in their eighth NBA Game 7 (the Suns have lost two straight and four of their last five Game 7s overall).
• Phoenix is trying to be the eighth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 best-of-7 series deficit.
-- ESPN Research
How do you feel about Steve Nash after Thursday's performance (32 pts, 13 assts, 13-13 FT)?
42.9% He was my MVP choice and he's reaffirmed that.
How do you feel about Kobe Bryant now?
49.6% He has done some great things in this series, but he's no MVP.
Bryant went for 50 points on Thursday. What do you take away from that?
66.6% He did what he had to do to try to win the game.
Raja Bell will be back for Saturday's Game 7. What do you expect?
69.0% A clean, hard-fought game
Which team will win Game 7?
With their 114-113 OT win over the Wiz, the Cavs earned their last three victories by one point, unprecedented in a playoff series.
Miniscule Margin Men
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
LeBron tells Gilbert Arenas that if he misses these OT free throws, the game is over. The Wiz led 113-112 with 15 seconds left. Arenas misses. Then Damon swishes. Wiz lose.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
AP Photo/Steve Yeater
Tony Parker's determination (and playoff career high 31 points) helped lift the Spurs to a Game 6 win that finished the Kings.
Tony Parker had a bag of ice stuck inside the top right side of his shorts as he shuffled with a pronounced limp through the exit tunnel at Arco Arena and into the oversized closet that serves at the visitors' locker room.
Behind him was Manu Ginobili, displaying a limp of his own that was nowhere near as pronounced as Parker's.
Both guys looked to be in no shape to do anything except collapse.
But unfortunately for the San Antonio Spurs, that's just too darn bad.
The league office has decreed that they'll be back in action at noon local time on Sunday for Game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks, a situation Sacramento Kings coach Rick Adelman described as a "travesty."
"Who in the world made that schedule? They worked all year to get homecourt advantage, and they play a tough series and they're going to make them play 36 hours later? To me that is just a travesty. And if they lose (Game 1), then you can put it on someone in New York, because that's just not right.
"And I know Pop wouldn't say it, but that's probably how he feels, and so maybe I can say it. I don't think they can fine me," Adelman said.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich actually did have something to say about it when I stopped him in the hallway outside the Spurs' dressing room, and though he wasn't nearly as forthright about things as Adelman, he didn't exactly sound enthused.
"We've never had anything like this, and the worst thing for us this year was back-to-backs, we were terrible, and this is basically a back-to-back," Popovich said. "So we only have one choice, and that's to try to use it as fuel, be angry about that kind of time slot and show that out on the court with our play, and not whine about it or be deflated about it."
The quick turnaround will likely be most problematic to Parker, who aggravated a thigh contusion in Game 6 against Sacramento but still poured in a team-high 31 points. Bruce Bowen added four 3-pointers among his 16 points and held Bonzi Wells to 17 points, eliminating the effectiveness of the one player who had become Sacramento's best offensive weapon in this series.
The Spurs got only 15 points (on eight shots) and six rebounds from Tim Duncan, who continued to fade into the background on what has become Parker's team. That fact may not have resonated nationally yet, but it'll become clearer and clearer to more people the longer the Spurs stick around.
"He's young, he's not on the radar screen like LeBron, Kobe, Nash, Nowitzki, Elton, those kind of guys. But if he keeps playing like this his time will come in the future, because he's a pretty special kid," Popovich said.
But he's also a special kid with a very sore right thigh, and he isn't going to have much time -- about 33 1/2 hours, to be exact -- to rest that injury before the next round begins.
Whether that truly qualifies as a travesty is open to debate. But for now, it's Parker and the Spurs' reality, and they're going to have to deal with it.
-- Chris Sheridan at Arco Arena in Sacramento
I didn't think the Lakers had a chance in hell of beating Phoenix this series. So Phil is the Zenmaster, but WHY didn't they foul someone with time expiring [in regulation]? That would of sealed the victory for the Lakers. Now going back to Phoenix after that momentum switcher, the Lakers have No Chance.
-- Mark Farwell (Nova Scotia)
Do people honestly believe that Phoenix is going to win this series? And do people really, REALLY believe that Nash is the true MVP? I don't think Kobe is going to allow this series to slip through his fingers. You saw Shaq had his best game of the series when Miami had its back against the wall. Look for Super 8 to do the same. Tell Raja Bell to get his chin strap ready, locomotive eight is approaching the station.
I am a Lakers fan, and frankly I am concerned. Thursday's game had to be the absolutely worst executed conspiracy in history. If the league won't get its act together and properly ensure that Kobe Bryant shoots at least 20 free throws a game, while allowing him to knock the entire starting lineup of the opposing team unconscious with his elbows, I don't know why I should even bother watching the games. What is this game coming to? Next thing you know, they'll let a small town in rural Texas become a dynasty. I'm calling my Congresswoman.