CLEVELAND - Caron Butler whispered in LeBron James's ear, one last word in case the Washington Wizards' season was about to end.
"I was messing with LeBron before the play started," Butler said. "I told him, 'Miss this shot, make it interesting and let's take this thing back to D.C.' "
Seconds later, the Wizards were on their way home - for Game 6.
Butler made a layup with 3.9 seconds left and the Wizards held their breath as James missed a potential series-ending layup at the horn, giving Washington an 88-87 victory last night and adding at least one more game to this overheated NBA playoff series which the Cavaliers lead, 3-2.
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.
Butler scored 32 points and DeShawn Stevenson had 17 for the Wizards, who played without guard Gilbert Arenas. Arenas announced before the game his season is over because of a bothersome knee. Arenas's 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.
Butler made sure of it.
"He played it like it was his last game, which it could have been," Arenas said. "He showed leadership and poise out there. Great players make great moves and he did it tonight and he's on his way to stardom because he's doing it on a big stage."
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 5 with 1:47 left, but Washington scored the final 6 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 3-point play with 1:47 to go.
Butler scored on a layup sandwiched between two missed 3-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.