Daniel Gibson, LeBron James, and Ben Wallace Sulking
The fact that the Cavaliers lost this game is not surprising. They had won 8 straight playoffs games against Washington. The Wizards were motivated and they were getting some much needed home crowd nourishment. What is surprising, however, is the way in which the Cavaliers lost this game. Even more surprising, was the final margin, 108-72.
Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Let’s face it, we’ve said all along that this team is a team with shaky focus and motivation. When it’s clicking, they can look unstoppable, but when it’s not, they can look like one of the worst teams in the NBA. Ususally it’s somewhere in between, and the Cavs play a close game until LeBron takes it over in the 4th and single handedly wins the game. Thursday night, however, it was not working. LeBron was mediocre, and everyone else was even worse. LeBron finished with a quiet 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. He also had 1 steal, 1 block, and 4 turnovers. The only other Cavalier to hit double figures was Devin Brown, thanks to a couple late 3 pointers. Otherwise, it was grim. Ben Wallace? 5 points. Zydrunas Ilgauskas? 9 points. Wally Szczerbiak? 6 points. Delonte West? 5 points. Andy Varejao? 3 points. Joe Smith? 8 points. Daniel Gibson? 4 points. Dwayne Jones, Damon Jones, and Billy Thomas were all scoreless in garbage time.
The bottom line in this game was composure. Washington had it, Cleveland didn’t. The Cavaliers only had 17 assists as a team after having 24 in Game 1 and 27 in Game 2. Furthermore, the Cavs had 23 turnovers which led to 30 points for the Wizards. Conversely, the Wizards had 20 assists and just 11 turnovers which led to 9 points for the Cavaliers. That difference of 23 points is a great place to start when trying to figure out how the Cavaliers managed to lose by 36 points in a playoff game. The next place to look is in shooting. Washington shot the ball 52.1% from the field and 42.1% from 3-pt (8-19) compared to the Cavaliers, who shot 39.7% from the field and 12.5% (2-16) from 3-pt. The Wizards were also more agressive getting to the hole and drawing fouls as they managed more FT attempts than Cleveland for the 2nd game in a row. All in all, the Cavaliers did nothing well in this game, and for the Wizards, with the exception of Arenas’ lingering injury, it was a night for nothing but smiles.
The Cavs were simply awful on defense as well. The were slow on their defensive rotations all night (another sign they give off when they’re having one of “those” games), which was leading to easy baskets underneath. And when they were slow on their rotations, it also led to wide open perimeter shots, which the likes of Roger Mason were more than happy to take advantage of. Mason played a key role off the bench in this one, hitting two of three 3-pt shots and 8 of 14 from the field overall for 18 points. Caron Butler was able to take advantage of the Cavs porous defense as well as he had his best game of the series so far with 17 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists. All in all, 5 Wizards ended up in double figures (Butler, Jamison, Haywood, Stevenson, and Mason).
Looking big picture, how will this loss affect this series? It’s hard to say. The Cavaliers still have a 2-1 advantage, they still have home court advantage, and they still have the best player in this series. What the Wizards managed to do, though, was steal momentum in this series in a big way, and even more importantly, they found their confidence, their stride, and their strategy for beating the Cavaliers. Their swagger has never waned in this series, and now they have even more reason to feel good about themselves. I could see every game in this series being won by the home team, but trust me on this….the Cavaliers do not want this to go to a Game 7. The Cavaliers need to regroup, shake off this loss, and get back to focusing on taking care of the ball. 23 turnovers, many of them unforced, are just unacceptable at this point in the season. The Cavaliers know it will be hard to play another game this poorly, but it will also be hard to play another game as well as they did in Game 2. Both teams have now gotten their awful games out of the way, and we’ve had 2 straight blowouts. I look for both teams to buckle down now and I expect to see some great games from here on out.