LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas met three times in the playoffs early in their careers. James’ Cleveland Cavaliers never lost a series to Arenas’ Washington Wizards during their matchups.
In their first meeting in 2006, Arenas was introduced to the basketball smarts of the Akron, Ohio native. In an interview with Vlad TV, “Agent Zero” had this to say about that series:
“Yeah, it was [heartbreaking]. We were the better team. We got outsmarted by somebody who we didn’t really think about. We didn’t know how intelligent, how he moved pieces around.
“So, when he wanted to attack, he had certain people get subbed out, which subbed out some of our pieces, which made the game smaller. He pulled a center, so we pulled our center.
“Now, our backup is smaller than LeBron [James]. So now when LeBron goes to the basket, no one’s there to protect the rim.”
“That’s when he just drove, drove, drove. Didn’t even think about taking the jump shot. We didn’t actually understand what was going on until after.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers had 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgauskas manning the paint. Sometimes, the Cavs would go to the more mobile Anderson Varejao or Drew Gooden to create mismatches.
The Washington Wizards mostly relied on Ethan Thomas and Brendan Haywood to clog the middle. Thomas could switch on to smaller players compared to the seven-foot Haywood. “ET,” though, was only 6-foot-9 and weighed 240 pounds. LeBron James had no trouble bulldozing his way against him.
Sometimes, the 6-foot-11 Jared Jeffries would patrol the paint for the Wizards on defense. Even the slightly built but taller Jeffries couldn’t do a much better job keeping the “L-Train” out of the shaded lane.
In LeBron James’ first postseason appearance in the NBA, he averaged 35.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Gilbert Arenas went toe-to-toe against him, as “Agent Zero” had 34.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.2 steals.
The 2006 playoffs between LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas was one of the most entertaining matchups in the postseason
The Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2006 playoffs against the Washington Wizards. All of the games, though, could have gone either way, making it one of the most entertaining postseason series of all time.
Games 3, 5 and 6 were all one-point games that went Cleveland’s way. LeBron James hit the game-winning shots in the first two before Damon Jones’ corner-3 gave “King James” his first playoff series win.
Game 6 was incredibly nail-biting. Arenas sent the game into overtime with a deep 3-pointer. After the game, James said that Arenas “shot it from the ESPN booth.”
“Agent Zero,” however, missed two crucial free throws, perhaps due to LeBron James’ trash-talking, that eventually cost them the game. Arenas, years later, revealed what James told him in-between free-throw attempts:
“You know who is going to make it.”
Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards weren’t just outsmarted. They were unnerved by someone so young and so composed who dominated the whole series.