It wasn't pretty. Any time Nene, who's coming off a 30 point performance and the game winner the night before, goes down with a scary, non-contact injury, things will look bleak. But for at least one night, the Wizards survive, and ramped up their defensive intensity in the process. Cavs were rolling, going tit-for-tat against a hot-shooting Wizards offense, but managed just 11 fourth quarter points as Washington reels off a 96-83 victory in Cleveland.
The big story is obviously Nene, who suffered a right knee sprain around the six-minute mark of the third quarter. It looked like your typical non-contact injury, right before he went up to contest a Spencer Hawes layup along the baseline. He limped around, fell to the floor as the trainers checked up on him, then hobbled straight to the locker room and wouldn't return.
But the Wizards responded well, and relied on their defense to close this one out for their third straight victory. They clamped down, blowing up Cleveland's vaunted pick and roll attack with Irving and Hawes, and continued to assert their will with fastbreak points. John Wall and Bradley Beal led the way, scoring a combined 38 points with solid efficiency, but also did their part on the other end. Irving and Jack were held to just 9-28 shooting total, and never really got into a groove shooting the ball.
This all following a night in which the Wizards relied on their defense to pull out a much-needed win over the short-handed Pelicans, but the same couldn't be said in the first half. The Wizards backcourt combined to shoot 11 for 19 from the field for 26 points, but the Cavs relentlessly answered every run Washington made. Kyrie, who has killed the 'Zards this season, had a relatively quiet night, but a healthy contribution from Spencer Hawes, who the Wizards had absolutely no answer for, kept the game close.
And it continued into the third quarter. The Wizards offense kept chugging away, but the Cavs would answer every run with Hawes at the center of it all. Nene took the bulk of the time defending him, and really struggled to keep up. Nene's so good at showing on pick and roll ball handlers, but it also leaves him susceptible to giving up open threes. He's just not quick enough to recover in time, and Hawes is skilled enough to put the ball on the floor and make plays.
Then, our worst nightmare came to fruition as Nene went down, spraining his left knee.
The offense took a complete nosedive following it. Here's what followed: Three consecutive missed three's, Wall air-balling a floater in the lane, and an Ariza off-the-dribble jumper that clanked off the side of the rim. But their fortunes changed once Al Harrington was inserted into the game.
He quickly hit on his first two shots, the first coming off a beautiful pass from Wall to get him a layup under the basket, and the second spotting up for three on the wing. Later on, he'd show off a quick escape dribble, getting him into the lane, hop stepping and nearly making a floater, which Seraphin cleaned up for two points. The spacing was obviously better, and the defense didn't let up as it did so often when he came into the game earlier in the year.
Eventually, the Cavs offense regressed to the mean, missing a few open looks before going into desperation-mode by firing long-twos. This was exactly the effort we've longed to see from this team against the bottom-dwellers of the Leastern Conference. The Nene injury does sting, however, and we'll be sure to keep you posted on it with updates.
Here are some game notes:
- Liked seeing Andre Miller cut backdoor with Jarrett Jack sagging off him to deter a Seraphin roll to the basket. Any semblance of off-ball movement is welcomed for obvious reasons, but this can be a real boon to this second unit if they continue to move the ball. Miller is crafty enough to duck-in for quick hitting post-ups against smaller guards, and he'd be sucking in the defense at the same time.
- It's just amazing how much more effective Gortat is when he makes a quick decision out of those post-ups at the low block. He leaves at least one defender a night in the dust with those quick spins, and he has an excellent touch around the rim. If only he'd take those fadeaways out of his repertoire.
- I can't be the only one who's completely against John Wall hunting for two-for-one situations at the end of quarters, right? With about 30 or so seconds left on the game clock, he raced down the floor and connected on a ridiculous pull-up three. Then followed it up by banking home another three as he faded away to his right. But I think we all know how uncommon those results actually are, and how much more often he fails at delivering on either of the two possessions. Just run your offense, get the best possible look out of it, then run down and play defense.