CLEVELAND - Caron Butler saved Washington's season.
Butler made a layup with 3.9 seconds left and the Wizards held their breath as LeBron James missed a potential series-ending layup at the horn, giving Washington an 88-87 victory Wednesday night and adding at least one more game to this overheated NBA playoff series.
After Butler scored on a drive past James, the Cavs had one more chance but their superstar couldn't get a banked runner to drop and the Wizards headed home for Game 6 on Friday night down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Butler scored 32 points and DeShawn Stevenson had 17 for the Wizards, who played without guard Gilbert Arenas. Agent Zero announced before the game that his season was over because of a bothersome knee. Arenas' absence figured to be the decisive blow for the Wizards, but they fought to the finish and, at least for now, prevented the Cavs from ending their season for the third straight year.
James scored 34 points - 24 in the second half - but was unable to make a final shot in traffic that would have sent the Wizards, who began talking trash weeks ago and haven't stopped, quietly into the summer. The Cavaliers led by five with 1:47 left, but Washington scored the final six points to end a five-game playoff losing streak in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers were keen on closing out the Wizards. Last year in the playoffs, Cleveland led New Jersey 3-1 and failed to put away the Nets before finally doing it on the road. The Cavs seemed to have learned their lesson and took an 87-82 lead on Delonte West's three-point play with 1:47 to go.
Butler scored on a layup sandwiched between two missed three-pointers by Cleveland, and Antonio Daniels hit two free throws to pull the Wizards within 87-86 with 43 seconds left. Joe Smith then missed a short inside shot and Zydrunas Ilgauskas couldn't steer in a tip.
Following a timeout, the Wizards cleared the floor for Butler, who burst past James and got an arching layup that danced briefly on the rim to fall.
Washington has been beaten by so many last-second shots from Cleveland in the playoffs, and as James drove by Stevenson to the basket on the Cavs' last possession, it looked as if the Wizards were going to go down in heartbreaking fashion again.
But James, who was bumped by Darius Songaila, didn't come through and Stevenson, whose running feud has been one of the subplots in a series as juicy as a day-time TV soap, ran to midcourt and celebrated the Wizards' good luck.
This series has had it all: trash talk, villains, heroes, rap stars and, of course, the Stevenson versus James feud that seems personal and professional. And now, it will continue.
Arenas was casually sitting in a chair in Washington's locker room discussing a recent movie he had seen, when he stunningly announced his lost season was over. The three-time all-star, who missed 66 regular-season games following knee surgery, played in the first four games in the series despite a painful deep bone bruise.
But he wasn't himself, and Arenas decided to start getting ready for next season a little early.
His teammates had other plans.
On Tuesday, the Wizards were visited by Abe Pollin, their 84-year-old owner who talked to them about past playoff successes and failures. Pollin spoke of times when Washington has overcome 3-1 deficits, and the Wizards have a chance to do it again.
The Cavaliers reeled off 11 straight points in the third quarter to open a 59-53 lead, but the Wizards regrouped as Butler and Antawn Jamison made three-pointers in a 16-6 run that put Washington ahead 69-65 entering possibly its final 12 minutes of the season.
As if on cue, the Wizards and Cavaliers were at each other's throats early.
With 3:20 left in the first quarter, James was fouled on a baseline drive by Songaila, whose left forearm caught James on the chin. James threw his head back and Songaila was assessed a technical foul for the latest rough foul of the series.
Both teams barked at each other and Stevenson and Anderson Varejao drew "Ts" for too much banter.
Butler scored 14 points in the first quarter on 5-of-6 shooting, forcing the Cavaliers to make a defensive switch and put James on the forward.
Notes: Only eight of 174 teams have overcome 3-1 deficits to win. ... Cavs F Sasha Pavlovic, sidelined since April 16 with a sprained left ankle, was active but didn't play. Arenas sat on the bench in street clothes, cheering on every miss and make by his teammates. ... Cavs coach Mike Brown was saddened but not surprised to learn that Dallas coach Avery Johnson was fired, two seasons after being NBA coach of the year. "The reality of it is, we get paid a lot of money to handle pressure," Brown said. "Avery is going to get another job whenever he wants it. He's just that good. There's nothing out there that's forever."
Latest From ...
- Karen Pence teaching at anti-LGBT school that bans gay students, parentsRally at Sony Music HQ calls on RCA Records to drop R. KellyEntertainment
- PHOTOS: Justin Trudeau looks just like this 29-year-old singer from Afghanistan5 things we learned about HBO's Brexit movieLifestyle
- Apple's Live Listen feature can let you hear conversations from a distanceHow your slow cooker saves you moneySports
- Should Eagles re-sign Golden Tate?NBA trade rumors: Sixers looking at Taurean Prince
- Karen Pence teaching at anti-LGBT school that bans gay students, parentsRally at Sony Music HQ calls on RCA Records to drop R. KellyEverything you need to know about NYC's two Women's March eventsPHOTOS: Justin Trudeau looks just like this 29-year-old singer from Afghanistan5 things we learned about HBO's Brexit movieStar Trek: Discovery season 2 cast and crew talk Spock's arrivalApple's Live Listen feature can let you hear conversations from a distance