It's been over an hour since I turned on the computer, searching for something to say about today's loss. I'm tired, jetlagged from an amazing week-long stay in Israel, but that's not why my brain is paralyzed right now.
Immediately after the game ended, I drove to the AT&T store to buy a new phone charger and attempted to think about anything other than basketball. On the way back, my brother (a user here) called from Israel and asked "What happened?" I tried to explain the game as calmly as possible, describing the Cleveland's 18-point run in the second quarter, the Wizards' slow comeback, Arenas' ridiculous game-tying shot, West's three, the rebounding, etc. I rambled on without a point, not sure what else to say. Eventually, clearly dissatisfied by my answer, he cut me off and asked "Now what? They have to make some changes." I remember saying something about how the series wasn't over, that I'd think about the offseason when it officially arrived, but eventually, I ran out of things to say. I had no ideas, no answers, and neither did he. The conversation eventually turned away from basketball, but I hate leaving questions unanswered, hence the writer's block.
Sportswriters are trained to look for the "key factor" or the "turning point," the thing that altered the game in such a way that the result would be strikingly different without it. The thing could be a play, an area of the game, or even an abstract theme, but it it always tends to be a singular thing. The singular thing leads one to blame one person for everything, or at the very least for an unreasonable amount. Even as I've hated this way of thinking, I lapse into it. That's just how we're trained, and while it may be incomplete, it isn't wrong to look for the turning point.
As I sit here hours later thinking about this game, I realize there were several of these in this game. There were the two layups LeBron got in transition early in the second quarter, which gave him the rhythm necessary to push Cleveland to a double-digit lead. There was the ugly missed three by Arenas late in the fourth that would have tied the game; instead, Daniel Gibson trained a trey to push Cleveland's lead to six. There were DeShawn's two missed threes on key fourth quarter possessions, when the Wizards should have been more patient. There was that possession to end the third quarter, when LeBron overpowered Caron Butler for an offensive rebound, and after another miss, Joe Smith, sandwitched between three Wizards, came up with the rebound, score, and foul at the buzzer. It was a three-point play, and the margin was three points, after all.
Those are just a few big plays, and already, you can see how it's impossible to find a scapegoat for all the problems. Gilbert sucked in the first half, killing the Wizards with his turnovers, and it was his man (Delonte West) who hit the game-winner, but if he doesn't hit that impossible shot, we don't even have a chance to win. DeShawn did an admirable job on LeBron, forcing him into the right spots in the Wizards' zone, but his terrible shot selection down the stretch caused wasted possessions. Caron Butler was the man in the fourth quarter, and also played great defense on LeBron, but he was nowhere to be found in the first three quarters. Jamison and Haywood both played admirably offensively, but provided no resistance as Cleveland grabbed all the offensive rebounds they needed. Roger Mason and AD were great, but didn't play enough, Darius Songaila was awful on the glass, and Andray Blatche even worse, but both helped the offense with their movement.
Eddie Jordan, meanwhile, demonstrated why Wizards nation is so conflicted about him as a head coach going forward. Few are better tacticians than Jordan, and this year, he's also dramatically improved his in-game coaching. He masterfully switched between a man-to-man and a zone defense, throwing off LeBron's rhythm and forcing other Cavaliers to beat them. Had he not done that, this game wouldn't have even been close. He deserves tons of credit, and if the Wizards let him go, they will miss all his strengths tremendously. But as far as inspiring his team, Eddie continues to come up short. Surely it's not his fault that we couldn't rebound, but this is the third time in four games that players blatantly lose their composure at key points, abandoning the offense and not hustling back on defense. And with the game entering its key points, Eddie didn't have the balls to sit Gilbert and go with Roger Mason or Antonio Daniels, both of whom played very well today. Gilbert rewarded Eddie's faith with a couple big plays, but that was besides the point. Good ol' Eddie went predictable again, and the end result was just as it has always been.
So when my brother raised the question of changes, I don't know where to start. Something must be done, I know that. We can't just trot out the same crew with the same coach anymore, otherwise we'll be losing in the first round until 2028. But as this game indicated, who stays and who goes? Gilbert? Eddie? Someone else? Everybody had their moments today, and everybody struggled at times. Is there anyone in particular you can really blame for that?
If this sounds melodramatic, it's because it is. There will be a time to review tactics, but for now, I'm coming up empty. All I know is that we need to think about making changes, and it's impossible to tell where to start. This loss was about everyone strengths and flaws showing up at different points during the game. Our inability to have our strengths occurring at the same time is a deficiency that has defined this team over the last three years.