If there's one stereotype about DC fans, it's that we blame ourselves and don't give credit to the teams that beat us. Oh sure, all fans do that, but I think we do it a lot more than most.
At least that's what non-DC fans tell me all the time.
But true or not, perhaps it's time to give some credit to what Cleveland is doing in this series, if only because this post can serve as a jumping-off point to ideas about how we can shock the world.
When the series began, I knew that we would have a lot of trouble winning the inside game. Cleveland's bigs don't score, but they rebound and are very physical inside. Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood were certainly behind the 8-ball here.
Still, I was confident because I didn't think Cleveland's perimeter defense was good enough to stop us. I didn't think they had played with the same intensity on the perimeter as they did last season, and that would bode well for Gilbert, Caron, DeShawn, AD, and Roger. I felt we would be able to get into our Princeton offense pretty easily, and once that happened, I didn't think they would be able to cut off both our drives to the basket and our perimeter shots. I figured they'd have to pick their poison, because, like in 2006, they wouldn't be quick enough to guard us off the dribble.
Instead, Cleveland's perimeter defense has been outstanding. Look at the shooting percentages. Gilbert's at 39 percent. Antawn has hit only 4 of 17 threes, while Caron is just 1 for 9 from three. AD's at 41 percent. Take away Game 3, and DeShawn is just 5 of 17 from three-point range. Gilbert might be banged up, but Cleveland deserves a ton of credit for those numbers. They've taken away the Wizards' improved perimeter shooting game, and that's been absolutely huge.
That leads to the second point ...
Forcing us into a one-on-one game
With our perimeter game taken away, our best chance at scoring is getting to the basket and drawing fouls. In 2006, we were able to do that, because we had three healthy stars that all had an individual advantage over whoever was guarding them. Additionally, one could argue we had been playing that style all season, so we were used to it.
This time? Gilbert's been out all season, and Caron's missed 24 games. Both are clearly out of sorts, and both have struggled driving on West and LeBron James (though a lot of that is the Cavs defense). That has made our offense way too one-dimensional. The Princeton works against good defense teams (see Boston), so we need to be more patient staying within it.
As mentioned above, Cleveland has done a great job in forcing us to begin our motion too far away from the basket. When that happens, it's easier for Cleveland to stay with us on off-ball screens. At that point, instead of quickly running a pick-and-roll or making a quick pass, our guards are waiting indecisively, bogging down our flow. They're then forced to make a play, and Cleveland has done a great job cutting off our penetration.
Worse yet, after a while, we become frustrated and take the first good shot offered instead of remaining patient. If we run the offense long enough, we have had success. Our guys need to remember that instead of jacking threes early in the shot clock.
Still, Cleveland's defense deserves a ton of credit. They may have found the blueprint to stopping our Princeton offense.
They're making perimeter shots
I think we've done a great job defensively, to be honest. The gameplan should have been to pack the middle to cut off LeBron's penetration, and we've done just that. LeBron's counting numbers were good in Game 4, but I'll live with him taking eight threes. Our best chance was to hope Cleveland, like they had all season, struggled with their perimeter shooting.
It hasn't happened. Two guys are killing us this series: Delonte West and Daniel Gibson. They're shooting a combined 16 of 31 from three-point range this series, including 9 of 15 in Game 4. Gibson has the ability to do this, but West has really been the one who has stepped up. I worried that he was too much of a ball-dominator to play with LeBron James, but this series has proved the opposite.
To a certain extent, there's little we can do about this. If the alternative to LeBron dunking on us is for Cleveland to launch threes, so be it. Make the other guys beat you. But we can do this while still watching those two carefully. While those guys are tearing us up, LeBron is 5 for 20 from three, Wally is 3 of 13, and Devin Brown is 4 for 12. Make those guys beat us from three. When West and Gibson are teeing up, close out on them vehemently and force them to put the ball on the floor. San Antonio did that to Gibson in the finals last year, which limited his effectiveness.
But still, the motto defensively has correctly been "Let anyone but LeBron beat us." They have so far.
You guys brainstorm on these, but just a couple ideas.
- Offensively, be patient. Keep the pace down, and don't jack quick threes. If we keep the pace down, it'll mitigate our poor transition defense, and there is ample evidence that suggests we can break Cleveland's defense down if we're patient, even though they've been so effective.
- When we are forced into isolation, move quickly. Don't spend so much time surveying the floor.
- Defensively, don't let them swing the ball to West and Gibson. If Devin Brown is open for three, let him shoot it. If West or Gibson does get a chance from three, rush out on them very quickly, forcing them to put the ball on the floor. It doesn't matter if we look silly jumping into the first row on a pump fake.
- Keep them off the defensive boards. We were doing fine until Game 4. If we force them into jumpers that don't come off penetration, that'll make things easier. Perhaps occasionally playing the high pick and roll straight up, instead of trapping, will help this.
- Keep mixing between zone and man. That has worked in this series.
- Turn LeBron into a jump shooter. Eight threes again would be nice.