WASHINGTON -- The Christmas holiday came and went, and the Washington Wizards didn't stop losing close games. Tonight, so-so offensive execution and the brilliance of Kyrie Irving foiled Washington again, as they fell to the Cavaliers, 87-84.
The fourth quarter once again featured stagnant Jordan Crawford-led offense, and that ultimately proved to be Washington's undoing. Crawford made some nice plays that showed his growth, but overall, it's not a sustainable model for success. Throw in an abysmal game for Bradley Beal and poor games from Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely, and the same old questions will dominate these comments below. If it feels like a broken record, it is.
Here are your chronologically-ordered notes.
- This is a tempo game, and early on, the Wizards controlled the tempo. Sometimes, all you need is a good first couple possessions to keep the ball moving. Once that happens and you get a stop or two, you can get out and catch the other team in transition.
- The Wizards' pick and roll game was working really well early on. Both Nene and Emeka Okafor were setting good screens, and the Wizards' guards were finding them at the right time. I have a feeling that the absence of Anderson Varejao had a lot to do with that.
- Shelvin Mack seemed to make a concerted effort to get the ball up the floor off missed shots, which is obviously something that's been lacking. More importantly, though, the Wizards' bigs were running well. Nene looked really spry racing to his preferred spot on the block, and Bradley Beal found him nicely for a quick spin and and-1 on Tyler Zeller.
- Great, great defensive set from the Wizards out of the first TV timeout. The Cavs tried a screen and roll, but the Wizards iced it beautifully. When Daniel Gibson threw the pocket bounce pass to Luke Walton, Mack cheated over, then quickly retreated back to his man to disrupt the timing of the play. Mack then recovered before his man went backdoor, and the Cavaliers got nothing out of an Alonzo Gee ISO.
- Mack still has issues with execution sometimes. He flubbed a dribble handoff with Beal before the second TV timeout, and he did nearly turn it over on the previous possession when Kyrie Irving ran him down. But he at least seems to think like a point guard. He doesn't predetermine plays before they happen like A.J. Price and Jordan Crawford always seem to do.
- The vexing thing about Crawford, of course, is that he never hesitates to put shots up once he gets into the game. He was attacking the basket, but it was out of the flow of the offense. On one play, he nearly ran into Jan Vesely on a made floater. I know Vesely is sometimes out of position on the court, but this time, I think it's on Crawford.
- Poor recognition by Crawford early in that second quarter. He sagged too far off Daniel Gibson on one made three, then clipped him on the arm on another for a foul. The only thing Gibson can do is shoot, so this is pretty unacceptable. Maybe this is what he missed when he was late to shootaround.
- Nene's block on Dion Waiters on one end, combined with his constant running of the floor on both ends, has me convinced that he's starting to rediscover his health.
- Irving really kept the Cavaliers in the game all by himself. The Wizards have to run their offense so crisply to get good shots. The Cavaliers, if things falter, can just give it to Irving and let him go to work. Some of the shots he hit in the second quarter were absolutely incredible.
- This looked like a November first half for Bradley Beal. He simply wasn't doing enough to drive to the basket and make plays.
- Want to know how to make Emeka Okafor look explosive offensively? Have Tyler Zeller guard him.
- You want to know how Crawford's game has grown? It's subtle things like the two pick and rolls he ran that eventually led to wide-open threes for Shelvin Mack in the corner. One of the things guards must learn in the NBA is that teams generally try to force the guard to go one way on the pick and roll. On side pick and rolls, they usually "ice" the player to the baseline. Sometimes, on high pick and rolls, they align their big men to one side and have their guard try to force the man to that same side. The guards that succeed force their way away from the help anyway. The guards that fail step right into the defense's trap. On that first pick and roll, Irving tried to make Crawford go left into the help, but he was strong enough to swing through, get right off a Nene screen and set up the chain of passes that led to Mack's three.
- Didn't like the sloppy play that resulted after the Wizards took a nine-point lead. Crawford fired a couple errant shots and threw a lazy lefty pass that resulted in a turnover. Not good offense.
- Vesely keeps going rogue with his defensive coverages. He trapped Irving far too aggressively in the pick and roll on one end, leading to an open jumper for Zeller. He then closed out horribly on Luke Walton of all people in the corner, allowing Walton to zip by him for a layup. (By the way, that sequence is Exhibits A, B, C, and D why Vesely cannot play small forward at this level).
- Nene's unselfishness got to him early in the fourth quarter. He squandered one early post-up opportunity by holding the ball and eventually firing an errant crosscourt pass. He failed to take advantage of another opportunity to drive to the rim, which eventually led to a turnover.
- Play HORSE against Jordan Crawford at your own peril.
- Gotta be honest: the Wizards defended Kyrie Irving pretty well early in the fourth quarter. While it's not like the Cavaliers were running anything special for him, the Wizards generally were trapping him well on pick and roll and sending a second defender to help.
- One of the reasons Shelvin Mack got cut the first time was that he had major issues executing simple plays like dribble handoffs and diagonal passes. Coming out of a timeout, he fired a horrible crosscourt pass that Alonzo Gee picked off for a dunk, which ignited a X-X run. Wittman correctly went back to Garrett Temple. It doesn't matter if you have good point guard instincts. If you can't initiate sets, you won't play if you're a point guard.
- And then Temple committed a terrible turnover with the Wizards down 1 with 1:15 left.
- Great play by Crawford to set up the sequence that led to one of two free throws for Okafor. He's grown in his ability to read the big man behind him.
- Speaking of reading the big man behind him, the drop-off pass by Irving to Tristan Thompson was simply incredible.
- Good look by Temple. Just missed it.
- It looked like Temple was open up the court on Crawford's final three-point attempt. That was a really tough pass to make, but it looked like Crawford didn't even bother to look for it.