WASHINGTON -- Another milestone for LeBron James: his first winning shot in the playoffs.
James drove around Antonio Daniels, collided with Michael Ruffin and banked in a short shot on his way down with 5.7 seconds to play, giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a 97-96 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday night and a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.
James scored 41 points on 16-for-28 shooting and had five rebounds and three assists. He out-dueled Gilbert Arenas, who scored 17 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter for the Wizards. Arenas, however, missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have won the game.
Game 4 is Sunday in Washington.
Larry Hughes, who had been struggling all series, scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers. Zydrunas Ilgaus-kas had 15 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 4:57 to play.
But the Cavaliers were all about James, who played all but 23 seconds. His teammates were a combined 19-for-57 from the field. The Wizards mixed up their defenses, sometimes showing double-teams and threats of double-teams, especially in the second half, but James couldn't be stopped at the end when everyone in the building knew he would take the shots. He made Cleveland's last two baskets, both tough shots in the paint.
Caron Butler had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Antawn Jamison scored 14 points for the Wizards, who cooled considerably after shooting 55 percent in the first half. Arenas had 11 of Washington's 12 field goals in the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers used defense to set up their chance to win. Donyell Marshall blocked Ruffin's layup, then was fouled at the other end and made both free throws to tie it at 93 with 51 seconds remaining. Then Flip Murray jumped to intercept Daniels' pass with 42 seconds to play.
James gave the Cavaliers the lead by driving to the paint against Jared Jeffries. Jeffries appeared to tie James up, but James recovered and put in the layup with 31 seconds remaining.
Arenas, serenaded by chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" in the fourth quarter, responded by driving the paint to draw a blocking foul on James while making the layup. Arenas hit the free throw for a three-point play, giving the Wizards a 96-95 lead with 23 seconds to go -- but giving James time to win it.
The game began with a blood-pumping, up-and-down pace missing from the first two games, although James was curiously a non-factor for much of the first quarter. The Cavaliers instead tried to feed the ball inside to Ilgauskas, who made a long hook for the game's first basket and didn't have another field goal until the second quarter.
A 15-4 run gave the Wizards a 26-15 lead, and coach Mike Brown decided he'd seen enough. He called timeout, and the message was clear: James needed the ball. He was the focus of the next three possessions, but only one was successful. He drove by Butler for a dunk, was called for an illegal dribble and missed a jump shot.
The Wizards led 26-19 at the end of the quarter, with the Big Three of Arenas, Butler and Jamison accounting for 23 of Washington's points.
James made two jumpers early in the second, but he was also victimized by Butler's spin-move for a layup at the other end. James, who had a triple-double in Game 1, didn't get his first assist until 2:21 to go in the half, and the Wizards led by 14 after two free throws from Daniels.
Then James led a late rally before the break. He dunked a rebound, then dunked after steal and made two free throws in an 8-2 run, cutting Washington's lead to 58-50 at the half.
The Wizards went cold in the third quarter, making six of 18 shots. James made two baskets and assisted on the other in a 6-0 run that tied it at 67, and the teams went to the fourth tied at 71.
James' 3-pointer early in the fourth gave the Cavaliers their first lead since 4-2, but Arenas answered with back-to-back baskets. Butler got the lead to six, 88-82, with two free throws on the play in which Ilgauskas fouled out.
But Hughes' 3-pointer cut the lead in half. Two minutes later, James' three-point play cut the deficit to one at 92-91 with 1:49 to play.
Notes: Cleveland G Damon Jones, who played 10 scoreless minutes in the first two games combined, made a 3-pointer in the second quarter. ... How big is the hype surrounding James? The Wizards issued a credential to a reporter from lebronjames.com, giving him a seat between the Cleveland Plain Dealer and USA Today. ... Pregame mystery in the Wizards locker room: Someone wrote "The Hater" in block letters on the nameplate above rookie Andray Blatche's locker. "I don't know who did it -- probably Gil," Blatche said. But Arenas said there was no way he could be the culprit. "I have bad penmanship," he said.