Wizards came out firing. They made their first 4 shots, including 3 Martell Webster bombs. In a surprise move, Byron Scott yanked all the starters (sans Livingston) barely 2 minutes into the game! I’ll take it as an anti-tanking statement. This team is going to fight through injury – and Byron is not afraid to keep players on a short leash.
His power play worked, sort of. After falling 11 points in the hole, the Cavs answered with an 11-2 run of their own, trimming the Wizards lead to 2. And then they fell in love with the deep ball, and went stone cold for another 3 minutes. The Wizards ended the quarter with all the momentum, and at the end of 1, it was: Wizards 33, C.J., Wayne, and Shaun: 20.
Tristan Thompson got the Cavs started off right in the second quarter. After a feisty o-rebound and put-back dunk, he found Boobie for 3 before dropping in another 2 points in the paint. Dion blew by his defender and threw down a vicious tomahawk hammer, and the crowd finally woke up. And then the Cavs put the Wizards to sleep and performed inception on them. The Wizards endured a 5 minute spell without a point while the Cavs scored at will with an assortment of baskets – mostly easy looks in the paint. Dion and Tristan really made amends for the first 3 minutes of lackluster play that got them benched. Dion attacked the rack, (presumably he asked them “How can I go back!?” [in the game] and they made him watch the Spirit of Mufasa scene while on the pine) while Tristan just bullied his way into free throws (which he made) and his usual arsenal of paint buckets. Tyler Zeller started grabbing boards and knocking down short jumpers. Alonzo Gee threw some icing on the 2nd quarter cake and the Cavaliers, after spotting the Wizards 11 points and being down 13 at the end of the 1st, went into the locker room with a 1 point lead: 50-49. Well done Byron, getting the young guys to respond to the initial deficit.
Since the initial benching, Tristan played like a man possessed. He finished a super strong move in traffic to start the 3rd quarter. And then it was time for Alonzo Gee button mashing from beyond the arc – it’s Super Effective! x2! The rest of the quarter featured some high-level basketball from the Cavs. Tristan was a beast on the boards – stealing a bunch of would-be Wizards rebounds, and the Cavs moved the ball very well throughout. They started jumping passing lanes on defense, and it led to some fast breaks. Turns out, Wayne Ellington is pretty good at running the break too! I love that guy.
Luke Walton is a very self-aware man. Midway through the 3rd he stole a pass in the open court and was still ahead of a trailing pack by the time he dribbled into the key. And the he turned around and looked for help because he worried someone would chase down his layup attempt. It looked ugly but it led to 2 made Ellington FTs – so no harm no foul. Well done, Luke, sorry there’s no assist for you there. Later, near the end of the quarter, Walton received a pass at the elbow – wide open. Naturally, he still looked to find a better shot for one of his teammates. His pump-fake pass got the already sagging Wizards to flinch even more – getting a rise out of AC and the fans. At that point, Luke had to shoot it, I’m not even sure the Wizards were still in bounds. He netted it. Prediction: Luke Walton will be the greatest over-60 basketball player on the planet. In 8 years or whenever that happens. Daniel Gibson hit a nice jumper after curling around a Walton pick – and the Cavs finished one of their best 3rd quarters in recent memory. 76-65 at the end of 3.
The Wizards came out with an extra edge to start the 4th. The Cavs only basket in the first 4 minutes was off a sweet Luke Walton interior pass to Wayne Ellington after Luke faked an up-and-under with the shot clock about to expire. It was a great defensive possession by the Wizards and better offense by Luke Walton. The Wizards trimmed the lead to 5 before C.J. Miles closed his eyes and threw what looked like a basketball into the hoop. Yep, it was the ball – someone let C.J. know. The Cavs have 2 of the most feast or famine players in the NBA in C.J. Miles and Mo Speights. Speights is even more unusually scalding xor freezing than Miles. Tonight, he was cold – at both ends of the court. Fortunately for the Cavs, the Wizards couldn’t hit any shot – no matter how open the look. Waiters hit a smooth jab-step jumper from the elbow and followed it up with a silky spin move through 2 defenders and a finger roll finish. Alonzo Gee hit another 3, and followed it up by barely grazing the rim on the elusive (for him) corner 3. Nine attempted 3s tonight for Gee, and almost all of them were wide open. And he’s been cashing in. The Cavs continued their habit of running out on steals and rebounds, and Waiters got a nice transition dunk off a screwball pass from Shaun Livingston. Waiters followed that up with another trip to the line after a late whistle that looked like he just lost the ball. I noticed about 3 calls tonight that Waiters “earned”. They could have gone either way, but a few months ago, they were most certainly not going Dion’s way.
I know it’s almost impossible for bball junkies to say anything nice about John Wall without pointing out some glaring weaknesses. So I’ll just say he played a very effective game tonight – relentlessly pushing the tempo at every opportunity and making plays in the open court. The Wizards chipped away the entire fourth quarter and cut the deficit to 3 with 45 seconds left in the game. Livingston made a poor decision to feed Dion in the high post as the Wizards immediately trapped him. Livingston got the ball back and had to make something happen with the clock winding down. He threw up a hard runner that rimmed out but was able to get his hand in the rebound and force a jump ball. More importantly, he WON the jump ball (out-jumping Nene!) and the Wizards were forced to foul. That’s a revenge jump ball right there. Freon sank both freebies to give the Cavs a 5 point edge with 13 seconds remaining. Out of the timeout, Waiters lost Chris Singleton on a quick backdoor cut and fouled him on the bucket. Singleton missed the free throw and for a second it looked like the ball might bounce to the Wizards, but the Cavs secured it and Dion got fouled. Freon sank another 2, making amends for his rookie mistake on defense, and the Wizards had 6 seconds to score at least 5 points. They didn’t and the Cavs won.
-Before the Waiters dunk in the 2nd quarter, about 100% of the Cavalier fans I follow on twitter made some gleeful tanking comment. And then the Cavs methodically dismantled the Wizards. It’s really fun to be a Cavs fan these days. I remember the LeBron years, where a victory like this would leave me depressed that the Cavs didn’t beat a crap team by 30 and sit all their starters in the 4th quarter. For this Cavs team, if they lose – it’s not too hard to think #tankstrong or copious buckets of pingpong balls or imagining the FA class of 2014 or whatever you want, really. But I’m glad the Cavs won the game. I’d like to see most of these players in the future and I want to watch them grow together.
-I think Chris Grant should sign Shaun Livingston to a 4-year deal and be done with it. (Grant’s not going to eschew flexibility with a big-name FA, so why not lock up Livingston – he can be had for a bargain) He’s a winner, he fills a void, and they should reward him – he’s saved this season in my opinion. Tonight, he iced the game with a jump-ball. The rebound careened to two Wizards and Livingston used the tiny moment of confusion to throw his fingers in there and earn a call. And then he out-jumped a center to seal the victory. He, much like Ellington, plays within himself and provides steady offensive execution and some decent defense with his length.
-Much respect to Byron Scott. He got his young team to respond tonight. He yanked Thompson and Waiters way before their normal exit routine and they responded with a vengeance. Dion got to the line 14 times, and assumed the role of primary scorer in the 4th quarter. Tristan was in full beast mode during the 2nd and 3rd quarters. He finished with 13 and 14 on only 8 shots and grabbed 6 offensive boards. At least 3 of those he had no business getting – they were essentially steals. Gotta give Byron credit for that ballsy move. His starters could have sulked – and they did the opposite.
-Boobie Gibson played pretty well tonight. He only got 16 minutes but he was active. He got his hands on some loose balls and finished +11 in 16 minutes – much like the Herculoids, he fights through screens very well.
-Tyler Zeller had a few moments in the 2nd quarter but didn’t seem to be on the court much in the 2nd half. Mo Speights had a very poor game. Hopefully he’ll bounce back quickly.
-Alonzo Gee led the Cavs with 15 shots. Not a great recipe for success but he had 4 bars of 3G service tonight – I’m sure the Cavs’ll take it.
-Nice balanced attack on offensive for the Cavs. The ball didn’t stick tonight. There weren’t any dribbling fests either. Six Cavaliers dished out at least 3 assists. That’s really awesome.
-Nice game for Dion. He only made 5 of 13 shots and took a couple head-scratchers but he was very active after the initial benching and finished with 6 boards, 3 assists, a steal, and 20 points. Ten of those were from free throws. Well done, Dion – you remembered. It seems like he’s starting to get a little more respect from the refs – which is a welcome sign. Hopefully it incentivizes him to attack even more. In the post-game interview, Dion seemed kinda pissed that the Cavs started off so poorly. He said he respected what Coach Scott did (the benching) and that he knew how he had to respond. I really loved when he said this with a scowl on his face: “We can’t come out and play nonchalant. We’re not good enough to get away with that.” Good attitude, Dion. And good win.