Wizards 80, Cavaliers 77 (Box Score)
Up until the final three seconds, it looked like the Cavs might pull a redux of their Christmas Night performance against these same lowly Wizards, having clawed their way back from a 16-point deficit early in the fourth quarter. The Cavs’ defense was suffocating; the Wizards were imploding. The game was tied at 77.
And then, much like they had at various points of the afternoon, the Cavs fell asleep on defense and gave Antawn Jamison a wide-open look that resulted in a 79-77 Wizards lead with 10+ seconds left. And then, much like they had at various points in the afternoon, the Cavs offense gave the ball to LeBron, stopped moving, and watched him try to drive on the entire Wizards’ team. And then, much like Wizards fans claim he always does, LeBron took about 3 full steps and made a lay-up.
Traveling. Game over.
This game was ugly for the Cavaliers. They are clearly missing the inside presence of Z on the blocks, as they were out-rebounded 52-35, including an edge of 19-9 for the Wizards on the offensive glass. The Cavs held the Wizards to 41% shooting, including only 2-of-10 from distance, but allowed far too many second-chance points (20). As Austin Carr kept pointing out, they were relying on their athleticism to get the rebounds, instead of squarely putting bodies on Wizards to keep them off the glass.
But, this game was ugly on both sides of the court for Cleveland. By the third quarter, the offense looked abysmally stagnant. They’ve regressed to the point of last year where when times get tough, instead of sticking to what has worked for the first two months of the season, they panic, pass the ball sheepishly around the perimeter, and jack up bad shots. The Cavs were shooting over 50% at the half, and were only down four. By the end of the third quarter, they were down 14 (!!) after scoring only 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting from the floor. They finished the game shooting under 40%, and were 7-for-26 from distance. 26 three-point attempts!!! The Cavs also finished with 17 turn-overs for the game, resulting in 19 points-off-turn-overs for Washington. If you’re scoring at home, that would be 39 points that the Cavs all but gift-wrapped for the Wiz.
Now, we Cavs fans could crack jokes about the fact that the Wizards’ interim coach reportedly wrote “REDEMPTION!” on the dry-erase board in their locker room for this game (seriously? This one game somehow erases not only three straight years of playoff losses, but also the fact that your team has 5 fewer wins THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THE CONFERENCE??), but there are bigger issues afoot here.
Frankly, it was a miracle that the Cavs had a shot to send this game to OT with 10 seconds left. With just under seven minutes left in the game, they were still down 12 and looking completely lifeless. Cavs fans have criticized Mike Brown’s coaching in the past, but he deserves a tiny bit of credit for getting the team back into this game. With 6:33 left in the fourth quarter, Caron Butler turned the ball over, and Mo Williams passed to LeBron on the break. In what appeared to be a horrible, horrible call (and the third offensive foul on the Cavs in the quarter), Mike James slid in front of LeBron on his way to the rack, was NOT square, drove his shoulder into LeBron’s chest, and somehow drew the charge. Mike Brown not only managed to get himself ejected, but probably displayed more anger and emotion in doing so than I can remember ever seeing from him. He ran far past the time line, and had to be physically restrained by two members of his staff. “Mike Brown is our leader,” LeBron said afterward. “We all respect what he did; it was a stand-up move for us. … Sometimes you look for a teammate to make a play to fire you up; every now and then a coach can fire you up. We’re not saying we want Mike Brown to get thrown out if we’re flat or not making shots. We’re not saying that. But sometimes you need a coach to do something, and that definitely fired us up.”
After the ejection, Butler made 1-of-2 from the line, and then the Cavs went OFF. A 19-6 run over the next five and a half minutes drew them even at 77. The teams traded misses over the next two possessions, setting up the final two possessions that resulted in the Jamison bucket and the LeBron traveling call. Butler made one free-throw to set the final score, as a LeBron three-point heave at the buzzer went begging. 77 points is the Cavs’ season-low, and sadly comes just one game after scoring 117 against Chicago on Friday night.
There are two fairly large elephants in the room in the aftermath of this game that I feel need to be discussed. The first is the re-emergence of the Cavs’ stagnant offense. Without Ilgauskas, the Cavs obviously have much less interior scoring. But, we’ve seen that Anderson Varejao can pick up some of the slack when given the ball. On Sunday, he had only 9 shots in 40 minutes of PT, and scored only 10 points. Rookie JJ Hickson got 18 minutes of action, but he himself only took six shots in that time. Darnell Jackson did not play.
The Cavs are hurting inside without Z, but in this game they seemingly chose not to try to continue to work inside with what they DO have. Varejao has shown an improved enough offensive game down low that if he’s going to be the starting center next to the offensively-challenged Ben Wallace, the Cavs are going to have to try to move the ball through him with almost as much committment as they do when Big Z is in there. If there’s no forcing of opposing defenses to collapse on the paint, we’re back to moving the ball around the perimeter and hoisting bad jumpers. It also did not help yesterday that the Cavs of old showed up at the free throw line, as the team shot just under 61% from the line (14-23). Even Mo Williams missed a free throw.
The other problem that seems to be creeping in is one that I have always taken issue with. Ever since LeBron has arrived in Cleveland, there is one aspect of his game that I simply cannot stand, and that seems to get worse as he’s gotten older and more “established” in the league. Let’s all face it: LeBron is a big WHINER.
LeBron has never committed a foul in his NBA career, as is evident from the fact that every time he’s whistled for one he scrunches his face up and stomps around like a petulant child. LeBron has never missed a lay-up in his NBA career, as is evident from the fact that every time a lay-up doesn’t go in, he puts his arms out and looks for the nearest officials.
This is hardly unique to LeBron, but as the best player in the NBA, I want him to let some of this crap go and JUST PLAY HIS GAME. But, he is incapable of doing so:
Bad call. We all make mistakes, and I think I got the wrong end of the bargain. I watched it 10 times after the game, and it was clearly a good play. … You have your trademark play, and that’s one of my plays. It kind of looks like a travel because it’s slow, and it’s kind of a high-step, but it’s a one-two just as fluent as any other one-two in this league. I got the wrong end of it, but I think they need to look at it — and they need to understand that’s not a travel. It’s a perfectly legal play, something I’ve always done.
While I won’t disagree with those last four words, I’m afraid that LeBron’s ego is getting the better of him here. While he may call it a “crab dribble” (WTF is a crab dribble?), he traveled. He turned the corner, and took two steps and a jump. If he had landed on both feet before jumping for the shot, he could at least use a jump-stop argument. I myself have never heard of a “crab dribble”. I actually yelled at the TV, “Shut up, LeBron! You traveled!” as he argued the call all the way back down the floor for the 20 seconds after the call. His mouth echoed the refrain of “Bad call” visibly on the HD coverage as he was talking to the officials. And, in the AP recap, LeBron even pointed out that he thought he was fouled on the shot he took–AFTER traveling.
No one can argue that the officiating in the NBA is perfect; far from it. It’s a league of stars, and stars get calls. That includes LeBron. He gets more calls than many players (including his 4-point play in this game where Caron Butler got called for a ticky-tack hand-check on LeBron as he hoisted a three that somehow went in). He needs to learn to realize that he is already getting preferential treatment because of who he is, and to stop crying after what he feels are calls he should be getting but doesn’t and/or fouls he commits.
In discussing it this morning, RockKing agreed: “The thing I dislike about this Cavs team in general, more than anything, is all the incessant whining over calls. They’re not doing themselves any favors and they’re starting to lose most of the borderline calls that could go either way because the officials are sick of it, too.” LeBron isn’t alone. Anderson Varejao has his own reputation not only for flopping, but for doing the palms up “who, me?” routine after every call.
This Cavs team is better than that, and should play like it. But, even more basic than that, they should get back to playing the game they were playing before they lost Ilgauskas. They’re going to have to try, if they want to continue to hang around with the likes of the Celtics for the long haul.