Overview: After surging out to an early lead, the Cavaliers got steamrolled on the road by the Wizards, getting outscored 64-40 in the second half en route to a loss. This game snaps a winning streak for the Cavaliers and a losing streak for the Wizards.
-Bleech. Of all the teams to have a game like this against. Let’s break it down.
-Well, that first quarter was awesome, wasn’t it? LeBron was getting doubled every time he touched it and was punishing the Wizards by finding the open man or simply going to the hole himself.
-Best of all, Big Z really looked like himself. He banged in three of his four mid-range jumpers in the first quarter, and made flare screens on the man cheating on LeBron to free up an open three-point shooter in the corner twice. (This is an action the Cavs loved to run with their starting lineup last season-I’ve always thought of it as the signature Kuester play, and it’s been retained this year.) The Cavs were whipping the ball from side to side and draining their open threes, and on defense it was all long jumpers for the Wizards. The Cavs seemed well on their way to consecutive win #6, and all seemed right with the world.
-And then, the meltdown. Pretty much everything went wrong, but here were the big things that I saw:
-I’m not a big “four factors” guy in post-games, because it makes me feel like the machines are coming for my job, but the four factors graph tonight was pretty jarring in terms of the Wizards’ advantage in offensive rebounding rate and foul drawing rate.
-First, the offensive rebounds. The Wizards got 16 offensive boards, compared to 29 defensive boards for the Cavs. That’s just unacceptable, and it was what fueled the Wizards getting back into the game and eventually taking it over. Here’s what I think went into that:
-No Varejao, no Shaq. Those are two great rebounders who weren’t in this game for the Cavs. 12 of the 16 Wizard offensive boards were snagged by Jamison and Haywood-Varejao’s speed makes him a perfect counter to Jamison in the paint, and Shaq’s physicality was sorely missed against Haywood.
-JJ Hickson is just not a great rebounder right now, especially in traffic. Only two rebounds in 20 minutes for JJ, and that’s not a huge anomaly for him.
-The back-to-back may have played a factor in this aspect-players do get tired, especially with the Cavalier frontcourt thin.
-Only two rebounds for LeBron-he’s gotta get in there if the rebounds aren’t coming for the rest of the team. There’s a reason people care about the points/rebounds/assist lines you put up-the rebounds are important.
-Also, the Wizards just wanted this one more. They love playing at home against the Cavs, they’ve got their core on the court together, and they just get more pumped up than the Cavs do for this game, especially when they’re at home. The effort gap showed on the glass.
-Then there’s the free throw disparity. Please, let’s not make it about the refs. Yes, the Stevenson jump-ball should’ve been a foul. But that’s one call. You know how many layups the Cavs missed in the second half, according to the play-by-play data I have? One. If the refs were letting the Wiz get away with hacks, there would’ve been more missed shots at the basket. In reality, there just weren’t shots at the basket. The Cavs lived by jumpers off of ball movement early, and died by jumpers off the dribble as the game went on.
-On defense, the Cavs got reaching, and JJ and Darnell gave some silly fouls, as did a clearly frustrated Mo Williams in the fourth. Bottom line: refs favor the more aggressive team, and I’m not sure how anyone can say that wasn’t the Wizards tonight.
-Another bad defensive night for the Cavs tonight, giving up 108 points with Butler having a mediocre night from the field and Agent Zero going 6-22 behind a lot of ill-advised jumpers.
-Almost all of the serious damage was done by two guys: Jamison and Mike Miller. Jamison, we could see coming. He looks great and eager to be a force again coming back from injury, and he’s just a nightmare matchup for JJ. This is another area where having Varejao healthy could have made all the difference, but Jamison flat-out took JJ to school. Quick-release shots from the post, threes when JJ got caught thinking about his rotation, everything. Jamison looked like a man with something to prove tonight, and he proved it.
-Mike Miller can just flat-out play the game. He’s a lights-out shooter who’s more than competent when he puts the ball on the floor, and that can just be a nightmare. He was doing it all tonight-threes in transition, catch-and-shoot threes, nice plays both passing and finishing off the dribble when they ran him off the three-point line, a mid-range J off a pin-down. On paper, a big guy like Parker would be who you want guarding Miller, but he’s a guy that’s just going to hurt you if he’s aggressive and he doesn’t have to be the focal point of an offense.
A really nice game from LeBron wasted tonight. He really wanted to show this crowd up, and he was on his way to doing it. He was making the passes, he was finishing with authority, he was feeling it on his jumper. Windhorst, who I obviously respect and admire to no end, is of the opinion that LeBron shot the team out of the game by trying to show up Stevenson in the second half. Windhorst almost never makes “storyline” statements like this unless he really sees them, so that aspect does deserve some consideration.
But I do have to disagree a bit-I didn’t see LeBron’s shooting habits as anything wildly out of character. When the offense gets stagnant, which it was, LeBron will often fire a jumper out of an ISO to try and kick-start things-look in the second quarter, when the Cavs were in a dry spell and Stevenson hadn’t even entered the game yet. LeBron took the inbounds, danced around the perimeter for 20 seconds, and drained a pull-up 20-footer to try and get the offense going. And in the third, he hit a few long-range jumpers and started “heat-checking,” which he’ll do against any team in the league. LeBron will fire the Nitrous Oxide a little too early in games sometimes and put the team into “watch LeBron” mode for the rest of the way, but tonight I felt the offensive stagnation came before LeBron dominating the ball.
A brilliant stat from the same article: the Cavs have been outscored by 43 in the fourth quarter over the last 6 games. Complacency has been an issue, clearly.
Mo Williams: 2-13 from the field, of course. We are now officially into Matt Christopher novel territory with this.
Good stuff from D-Block tonight. 7 boards in 21 minutes tonight, and he knows how to catch and dunk when others penetrate. Although I don’t know why the Cavs think he has the best hands on the planet: I counted five crazy, impossible, thread-the-needle passes thrown his way in the first half alone, with only one turning into a basket. One of the few bright spots.
Bullets of Randomness:
Hey, Earl Boykins is closing out games for Gilbert Arenas again! I feel like watching Chapelle’s show right now to complete the return to 2003. Although I do remember hearing back then that Arenas felt insulted by Boykins closing out games for him back with the Warriors, and that was a factor in his decision to leave, so seeing this again is strange. However, the way Gil was cheering on Boykins from the bench, he certainly seems fine with the current situation.
Alright, that’s all for tonight. I’m dressing up as a real journalist and covering Bulls-Lakers tomorrow night for SLAM, but hopefully I’ll have time to get a post up here as well. Until later. Happy coping, everyone.