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Cleveland Cavaliers 93, Washington Wizards 89

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Waiting For Next Year

Highest Plus/Minus: Mike James (+8)
Lowest Plus/Minus: Nick Young (-13)
Best Five Man Unit: Mike James, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Dominic McGuire, Darius Songaila (+5 during the last 4:15 of the third quarter)
Worst Five Man Unit: DeShawn Stevenson, Nick Young, Caron Butler, Darius Songaila, Andray Blatche (-7 in a 2:24 stretch of second quarter)

Four Factors:

Team Pace Off Eff eFG% FT/FG OREB% TO%
Washington 92 96.7 48.9 4.6 26.2 17.4
Cleveland 101.1 50 25.7 25 18.5

Easily the most dispiriting loss of the season.  That's not the same as the worst, mind you, because while the end result sucked, it says a lot about the team that, undermanned like this, we were still able to compete with a team that has been clobbering everyone this month.  But it does bring back all the frustrations we've had this season; all the problems this team has faced in its dismal season.  I'm surprised there weren't more posts like this one after the game.  We played really well, but once again, our problems show themselves down the stretch and cost us the game.

But first, I have to address the officiating.  You all probably know that this is my least favorite topic to discuss, but it's necessary here.  I have to issue the requisite caveat to any annoying Cavs fans wishing to point this as whining (notice I said "annoying" Cavs fans, not Cavs fans in general): no, we didn't lose because of what follows, and no, it takes nothing away from Cleveland's win, but yes, it's still worth pointing out.

Once the Wizards took a 89-82 lead, there were four whistles that were very important calls.  On the next possession, LeBron James had a three at the top of the key that missed, but Caron Butler was called for a foul when he barely nicked LeBron's arm, if anything.  I really couldn't tell whether Caron actually hit LeBron's arm, which should mean that you swallow the whistle and play on.  No matter, LeBron got awarded three free throws, which dropped the lead from seven to four.  Clearly a bad call. 

On the next possession, Antawn slid down the lane for his patented scoop shot, but someone (I forget who?) slid under him at the last minute.  It's tough to tell whether the Cleveland player was still moving, but it's undeniable that the ball is well out of Antawn's hands.  A no call is fine by me, and a defensive foul is perfectly understandable, but an offensive foul is a really, really tough call. 

Then, after Cleveland cut it to one, Delonte West missed an open three.  On the ensuing rebound, Antawn appeared to have inside position on Anderson Varejao, but the rebound was long and Varejao got it.  Somehow, Antawn was called for a foul, for reasons that make no sense to me.  Some are saying Varejao pushed Jamison in the back and should have been called for a foul.  I'm not going to say that, because I didn't see the play all that clearly, but it does seem odd that the guy with inside position gets called for the foul.  No matter the merits of that one, though, the foul was Antawn's sixth, which took away our best offensive player.  He probably shouldn't have been called for both fouls. 

The final play was Butler's offensive foul on the game-tying possession.  I have no problem with that one.  Wallace was in position and Butler was out of control.

So those are four plays that hindered us.  If they're called right, we win.  But they didn't cost us the game.

What cost us the game are the same things that always cost us.  Down the stretch, when the defense plays its toughest, we don't have good enough creators, good enough pick-setters and good enough play-callers to create good shots.  Our possessions in the final five minutes ended as follows.

  • Caron Butler missed contested jumper
  • Mike James made contested jumper on the right side with the shot clock running down
  • Same as above, add the foul
  • Our one good play, when Butler splits the double and dishes off to Jamison for a short floater. 
  • Jamison throws a lazy pass to a cutting Andray Blatche for the turnover
  • We run a pick and pop and Jamison hits a long contested three
  • Jamison's offensive foul
  • Jamison gets in the lane, is met by three Cavs defenders, spins the other way and forces up an awful floater that misses everything.  Everybody in my house cringes
  • Butler's offensive foul
  • With Butler screaming for the ball open in the right corner, the Wizards inbound to James, who misses badly on a 30-footer

I can count one good possession during that stretch.  We've seen this before.

Defensively, we can't force people to shoot tough shots when it counts.  During the same stretch, we saw LeBron get a three-point play, Mo Williams make a wide-open three on a basic set play and the aformentioned West shot.  We allow second shots because we don't have the rebounders to secure the misses -- Jamison excepting.  And Jamison can get bullied around when officials swallow the whistle, which hurts us and him.  Same story, rinse and repeat.

I constantly have to remind myself that it's statistically impossible to constantly lose close games, that over time, a team's record in them evens out.  Because when watching this team play so many great 44-minute games, only to lose in the final four minutes, it's painful.  The only thing I can do is hope that our injured guys get healthy.  When healthy, Gilbert Arenas gives us a crunch-time scorer who can create good offensive possessions, while Brendan Haywood creates more space for rebounding and stopping guys on key possessions.  I know they won't solve all our problems, but when you think of what ails us in crunch time, they are the guys that can fill those weaknesses.  

At least I hope. 

More bullets:

  • If this game doesn't provide us reason to play Javaris Crittenton and JaVale McGee, I don't know what will.  It was probably our best effort of the season and we still lost.  Time to develop those young guys.  It was particularly ridiculous to see Etan Thomas get off the bench instead of McGee and, two plays later, Etan losing sight of the backside in the zone, allowing LeBron James the alleyoop dunk.  I thought he'd actually work in a zone!
  • Interesting talk with newcomer Jeff Ruland (that's the new member, not the player) about how Ed Tapscott should have reacted.  My feeling is he did the right thing.  He made a statement about not wanting to be fined and even if he didn't, what good does it solve?  Yes, it'd be nice if he was more aggressive instead of being the same passive Eddie T. he's been all year, but he can't control the officials.  He can only control his team.  Let's focus on him being aggressive with his player rotations and getting the young guys time, not on the officials.
  • Dominic McGuire played really well, though I'd caution people that say he shut down LeBron James.  From my vantage point, Caron guarded LeBron most of the time.  Still, D-Mac did play quite well.  
  • Mike Fratello was killing Nick Young for his decision-making off the pick and roll early on, and initially it was for good reason.  But while Nick played really badly and took some bad shots, he did make some nice passes off pick and roll coverage. 
  • Cleveland looked like they completely underestimated how we'd come out.  They missed tons of open jumpers, made the same mistakes with their pick and roll defense and didn't get Big Z involved at all.  We definitely played well, but we also needed them to play that badly to make it a game.
  • Zero free throws for Caron Butler.  That's unacceptable
  • I'd put something in here about giving DeShawn Stevenson's minutes permanently to Nick and Javaris, but that would be too obvious at this point

We better beat Oklahoma City tomorrow.  That's all.