Obviously, this game was lost in that putrid second quarter, which featured probably the worst defense I've ever seen on a professional level. It wasn't just that Cleveland scored, it was how they scored, with easy layups, dunks, tons of offensive rebounds, and shots early in the possession. That caused Eddie to play his starters the entire third quarter just to catch up, and they ran out of gas in the fourth.
The one play that was emblematic of the entire second quarter was the one at the end. Down 17, Eddie designed a brilliant inbounds play. Jamison pretends to set a screen for Jarvis Hayes, but instead, he goes right to the corner, where he takes the inbounds pass and drains an 18-footer. It stops a 7-0 Cleveland run, and it at least would give the Wizards some momentum heading into the half. But then Cleveland inbounds to Eric Snow, and DeShawn Stevenson, perhaps compensating for Jamison's slowness coming back on defense, leaves Sasha Pavolvic wide open underneath the basket for the easy dunk.
Now, if you don't have that play, you might not get the tongue lashing by Eddie at halftime, and you might not have the emotional comeback in the third quarter. But while the comeback was an impressive one, it wasn't really a case of the Wizards doing much different offensively. Jamison just hit three long shots, and Hayes hit a long three, which energized the team. It was only then that the Wizards got inside, and even then, it was shots like Hayes' two identical contested jumpers from the right wing. Perhaps that's why, when Jamison missed a long three that would have given the Wizards the lead, there was a mental breakdown. For whatever reason, Jamison walked down the court stunned, and failed to compensate for Etan by picking up Big Z. Ilgauskas raced to the rim and got the easy deuce, and Cleveland never trailed after that.
That's not to say the comeback wasn't spectacular, but there was a sense that it wasn't sustainable. With a desperate team playing basically for their season, you knew there was going to be a run. Once Cleveland took the punch, the Wizards found they couldn't hit the same shots they were hitting earlier.
That's the difference between a run like Cleveland had in the second quarter and the Wizards' run in the third. Cleveland was getting dunks and layups. The Wizards were getting long jumpers that went in; the same shots that they've missed all series. Cleveland got 8 layups or dunks in the second quarter, while the Wizards only got 4 in the third. It's much easier to get your offense going again when you've already created so many easy shots at a different point in the game.
You can classify the fourth quarter as fatigue, but you can also say it was simple natural regression.
Although there's really not much I can dispute with Eddie's coaching, I'm tired of seeing Darius Songaila playing at the end of games. In just over 23 minutes tonight, Songaila was -21. No, really. Look it up. To be fair, that's a little inflated by all the second-quarter minutes he played with Brendan Haywood, who, in one game, did more to make my defense of him look stupid than I ever thought possible, but he also really hurt the Wizards in the fourth. For all of Cleveland's strange irrational fears of Songaila's ability to spread their bigs out (I honestly started laughing when I heard that news), they can just have their way with him defensively, where he can't guard bigs or wings, and on the glass, where he is positively brutal. Songaila grabbed 2 rebounds during the game. Both were offensive ones, and both times, his putback attempt was blocked. He missed seven of his ten shots, and was responsible for one of the biggest defensive breakdowns of the game, when he got caught watching LeBron isolating, which let Drew Gooden sneak right behind him for the easy dunk.
At some point, Etan needed a rest in that fourth quarter, and the only place Eddie could really turn was to Songaila and the small lineup, considering how awful Haywood was. But when Etan came back in, and DeShawn got hurt, Eddie didn't take Songaila out, instead playing a frontcourt of Jamison, Songaila, and Etan. I mean, I can't think of any explanation, rational or irrational, for doing that. Why not put Mason in for Stevenson and keep Hayes guarding LeBron? Cleveland subtly took control during that stretch of the game
Honestly, Songaila is very similar to fellow international Andres Nocioni. Both are decent, but limited players who every contender could use off their bench. Their perceived value is that they're "gritty," "tough," or, and this is my personal favorite, "just know how to play the game" (as if other NBA players don't know how to play basketball!). They look good in the traditional stat sheet, but they fall short in categories that don't show up, like defensive rotations or offensive rebounds surrendered. And because it's hard for people to notice their limitations, they play far too many minutes. Chicago would be better off giving more minutes to Tyrus Thomas, and the Wizards may be better off giving some of Songaila's minutes to young Andray Blatche. But because they don't really look like basketball players, they'll continue to play a lot and fool coaches.
Next year, I hope that Blatche emerges enough to take some of Songaila's minutes. That's not a slight on Songaila--he'll be useful on this team and he has a nice, affordable contract (which Nocioni probably won't have after this offseason). But he's simply a limited player that kills the Wizards in several key spots.
And with that, I need to go work on my research paper. One more game left before we go into offseason mode. One more game to hope about what might have been this year. One more game to live out the depressing reality of not having our two best players. I'll be there supporting them all the way, but I wouldn't be lying when I say that I'm ready for the offseason.