Larry Hughes and Zadrunas Ilgauskas stepped up while LeBron James struggled for the Cleveland Cavaliers to beat the Washington Wizards 97-90 and complete the franchise's first NBA playoffs sweep on Monday.
Down by three points with 5- 1/2 minutes left in Game 4, Hughes and Ilgauskas combined for Cleveland's next 18 points, and James didn't have a basket for the rest of the way.
If the Wizards were known for having the "Big Three" _ until, that is, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler went down with April injuries _ it's the Cavaliers who have developed a talented trio that dominated the first-round series.
"We can't win if these guys don't play well, Z and Larry. Simple as that," said James, who finished with 31 points despite shooting 8-for-22 from the field. "I need them every game to be a factor. Us three, if we don't play well, we're not going to have a chance to win."
Win they did, if only barely, in all four games against a depleted Washington squad that led the Eastern Conference halfway through the season but never really had a chance once its two All-Stars went down.
"Gil's a strong personality. Caron's a strong personality. They're tough," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "They bring more to the table than just numbers, and their numbers were huge."
In other playoff games on Monday, Houston beat Utah 96-92 and San Antonio defeated Denver 96-89.
Last season, the Cavaliers relied on James to carry them past the Wizards in a tight first-round series that featured three games decided by one point.
Back then, Cleveland was excited about being a postseason participant. Nowadays, James and Co. _ seeded No. 2 in the Eastern Conference _ want to make some noise.
"Last year, going into the playoffs, it was all about making the playoffs," James said. "I hadn't been there in my NBA career, and Z hadn't been there since his rookie season, so that was our main focus: `Let's make the playoffs. Let's make the playoffs.' But we've got bigger and better things now. It's about winning a championship, and we're one step closer."
The Cavaliers will take on the New Jersey Nets or the Toronto Raptors _ who are playing the East's only first-round series that wasn't a sweep. Cleveland joined Chicago _ which knocked off defending champion Miami _ and Detroit _ which eliminated Orlando _ as teams that beat Southeast Division foes 4-0.
"It's going to be a long and stressful and 'fatigueful' postseason for us," James said, "so the more rest we can get, us taking care of business tonight, it's going to add to us being able to recover and mentally let us refocus."
James had 11 rebounds and seven assists, including three down the stretch, when Ilgauskas (20 points, 19 rebounds) and Hughes (19 points) were scoring.
"When you have different guys step up at different times," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said, "it takes the burden off of our team and our leading scorer, LeBron James _ who, by the way, had a terrific game."
Without Arenas or Butler, the Wizards again were left to rely on Antawn Jamison, who scored 31 points. He also dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds with 51 seconds left and Washington down 91-88.
Cleveland's scores on either side of that turnover? Baskets by Ilgauskas on assists by James.
"It was basically the same story in all four games: When you go out there, your job is to put yourself in position to win the game, and I think we did that," said Wizards guard Antonio Daniels, who had 13 points and 12 assists. "We just didn't hit our shots down the stretch, and they did."
Rockets 96, Jazz 92
Tracy McGrady had 26 points and a career-high 16 assists, and Yao Ming had 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, who took a 3-2 lead with their third home win. Yao sealed the victory with two free throws with 11 seconds left.
Back home after two lethargic losses in Utah, the Rockets rediscovered their shooting touch, going 35-for-75 from the field and 12-for-24 from 3-point range. They also outrebounded Utah 42-39. The Rockets can clinch their first postseason series victory since 1997 in Game 6 at Utah on Thursday.
Carlos Boozer of Utah scored 26 points but had only eight rebounds, denied a double-double for the first time in the series.
Spurs 96, Nuggets 89
Robert Horry, known for hitting big shots at the end of playoff games, nailed a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to seal the win that gave visiting San Antonio a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
The Spurs can close out the best-of-seven series at home Wednesday night.
The Nuggets, who led by 10 points in the second half, pulled to 90-89 on Steve Blake's jumper which looked like a 3 but his toe was on the line. Following a timeout, Tony Parker took the inbounds pass, penetrated the lane and kicked out to Horry in the right corner _ his second basket of the night.
Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 22 points, while Manu Ginobili added 18.
Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 29 points, and Allen Iverson had 22 on 9-for-25 shooting.