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If you're looking for a sign that the Wizards can be really special, just take a look at how Washington was able to build an 18 point lead early in 2nd quarter. Gilbert and Caron were torching Cleveland and everyone was crashing the glass for Washington. Problem was, no one else got into a rhythm and once Cleveland found a way to limit The Big 2, Washington just didn't have a back-up plan.
Guys like Randy Foye and Andray Blatche, who have both been big in both of Washington's wins, just didn't have it tonight. Neither one was awful by any means, but without Antawn Jamison in the lineup, the Wizards needed more from them to beat a team as good as the Cavs.
Certainly, Foye and Blatche don't deserve all or even most of the blame for last night's loss. None of the bigs could stay out of foul trouble, Mike Miller was efficient, but efficiency only goes so far when you only take three shots, and DeShawn Stevenson was a total non-factor: missing all of his field goal attempts, only grabbing 2 rebounds and getting no assists in 17 minutes of burn. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but as we saw for about 15-20 minutes last night, this team has the capability to be a very, very good team at times and they can get better as the season moves along.
The good was that for a half, the Wizards managed to hang with the Cavaliers and even build a double-digit game while holding LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal in check. The bad was that when the Cavaliers started pounding the ball inside, Washington couldn't match Cleveland's physicality and instead found its big men mired in foul trouble. And without Antawn Jamison, a slightly subpar Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas weren't enough. The bad was also a 102-90 Cleveland victory, which marked the Wizards' fifth straight regular-season loss at Quicken Loans Arena dating back to Feb. 24, 2006.
O'Neal said he takes it personally — ''Totally . . . totally'' — every time he's not double-covered, and he should score every time if he's not. ''If not, get rid of me,'' he said. The Wizards kept avoiding the double-team, and O'Neal made them pay. In this kind of game, against this kind of team, it worked.
It isn't a rivalry when the Wizards can't stop the 3-pointer. (Augh! The blinding glare of last season!) Cleveland was 42.6 percent from behind the arc. Without Anthony Parker's bricks (1 for 6), they were 50 percent, led by Gibson (4 for 5, 14 points) and Mo Williams (3 for 4, 15 points). Remember last week, when Washington held Dallas and Atlanta to 22.2 and 25 percent, respectively? By the way, the Wizards themselves were 28.6 (4 for 14) from three.
Coach Flip Saunders told his team after the game that they have to learn to play the game for 48 minutes, not eight or 15. It's a tired cliché, but the Wizards are learning the hard way so far. Good teams always find a way to respond, especially at home. If you look at the Cavaliers, Lakers, Celtics and Spurs, they are really tough outs. They keep scrapping and clawing and even if you beat them, you feel worn down afterward.
Washington had a 14 point lead after the first, and pushed that lead to 16 after a 22-5 run. Caron Butler was outplaying LeBron, getting into double figures in the first ten minutes. And the Wiz were shooting lights out -- 55 percent in the first twelve minutes. But then, it all came tumbling down. The Cavs turned up the defensive intensity, a light turned on for Shaq (21 and 8), and they hit nine threes in a dominant second-half performance. Washington, meanwhile, looked completely lost, forcing jumpers and botching offensive plays, leading to quite the top-heavy boxscore.
The Wizards had no answer for O’Neal and the Cavs used it to their advantage. They slowed the game down and pounded the ball inside to their big man, forcing JaVale McGee(notes), Andray Blatche(notes) and Brendan Haywood(notes) to hack or pay. McGee picked up four fouls in less than 10 minutes.
Leading the way for the Wizards was Arenas and Butler who scored 22 each. Off the bench Blatche and Foye both had arguably their worst games as they each scored seven. It’s no coincidence that Washington is 2-0 when the pair each score at least 15 and 0-2 when they don’t. Neither Blatche or Foye shot particularly poorly, both were 3-7 from the field. It just seemed like the pair couldn’t get in the flow of the offense. It seemed that outside of the first quarter, the Wizards were settling for chucking three’s or driving to to the basket with their head down…there was no opportunity for these two to get involved.
We played really well and then there's no question when our bigs got in foul trouble the momentum changed from the standpoint that we couldn't be aggressive around the basket. We couldn't do some of the things we were doing offensively. We just weren't as aggressive and it was tough to get the mojo back," Flip Saunders said. "What happened was we had bigs that were setting good screens and doing things. When the bigs got in foul trouble it was tough to get some of those and we didn't have as much inside presence at that point. So they could lock down more on the perimeter." That would explain why Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas (after scoring 13 and 10 points, respectively) in the first quarter managed just four points apiece in the second quarter. No strong picks coming from their big men and they were forced to create for themselves even more.
Before the game, LeBron James said he was thrilled to see Gilbert Arenas playing at a high level again. Arenas entered the game ranked fourth in the league in scoring at 28 points per game. James worked out in Chicago with Arenas for a few days this summer and said in August that he was about 90-95 percent of what he once was. "I'm a big fan of Gil and the way he plays the game," James said. "To see him back healthy is good for the game. It's good for the NBA. It's good for the city of Washington."
Could this be a turning point? Sure it could. The Cavs could point to this game down the road as the game that solidified this group as a team. When they all bought into the team philosophy and clamped down at the defensive end leading to an easier time on offense. Only time will tell, and the first chance they get to keep it going is Thursday night against the Bulls.
I've been very hard on Gibson in the blog over the last year for his defense, with good reason. After this game, however, I must give him his due. He played excellent D on Gilbert Arenas in the second half and truly worked hard to get in good position and took a couple of charges. Then he shot well again, making 4-of-5 3-pointers. As I've written and said so many times, if Boobie shoots well he's an asset. If he defends he can be a valuable player, we'll see if he keeps it up.
Before the game, James told reporters how the Cavs had been improving, starting off with a sense of urgency. Then they came out and rolled over, falling behind after the first quarter, 31-17. They shot 33 percent and allowed the Wizards to shoot 55 percent. The only noteworthy development was an on-court engagement during one of the timeouts. Even Washington's Caron Butler hugged the happy couple. Oh, yes. There also was a video tribute to Cavs fan Marge Garson, celebrating her 101st birthday at the game. She showed more moves than the Cavs in that first quarter.
Should I even say anything about Wizards fans? I mean, more than a third of the Wizards’ points tonight came from the free throw line, and the FT attempts were 41-27 in favor of the Wizards. But on every Wizards blog, all the Wizards fans want to talk about are how the refs fixed the game. Reading these comments, you’d think Mo distracted the refs as Shaq and LeBron beat up Caron without being tagged in. This is a hard game to officiate. If you’re biased towards a team, you’re going to find a number of "bad"calls in every game. Fred and AC sure thought there were some bad calls that went in favor of the Wizards tonight. Let’s all of us maybe get a smidgen of perspective on how objective we are when it comes to evaluating calls. Wizards fans, if you want a rivalry with the Cavs, have a rivalry with the Cavs. Right now, it feels like the Cavs are the middleman in your rivalry with the referees. I get the anxieties, and apologize for game 3 in 2006, but it’s drifting into self-parody. I’d really like to start talking about things like basketball.
Best of Twitterville
Twitter / Dan Steinberg
There might never be a better Halloween costume idea than Abe Lincoln with a DeShawn Stevenson neck tat http://twitpic.com/o7khs
Twitter / Kevin Reiss
I've paid so little attention to the NBA the last few years that I had no idea Al Roker coaches the Cavaliers.
Twitter / Zach Harper
Andray Blatche, you've had a great start to the season. But for god's sake find a guard on the break.
Twitter / The BF gang
So many ticky-tack fouls. So many real fouls.
Twitter / Mike Jones
Wiz look deflated. Butler's gassed and on bench. Arenas hasn't had impact since the 1st qtr, and Haywood, Blatche tentative w foul woes.
Twitter / Michael Lee
Flip bats away LeBron's pass and forces a turnover. If his team isn't going to play D, at least Flip will.
Twitter / Chase Hughes
Ironically, Andray Blatche only had 7 points tonight.
Twitter / Wizards Extreme
What the hell is with the confetti in game 4 of an NBA season? Stay classy Cleveland
Twitter / Jack Kogod
We're going to lose games like that on the road without Antawn. I can accept that. Cleveland played well. #F*ckingRefsTookOutOurBigs
Twitter / Truth_About_It
Wiz lose 102-90. Bad refs (sorta), but can't blame them at all. Wiz beat themselves. But need short memory, play D-Wade in DC tomorrow.
Twitter / wizznutzz
We all been watching scrolling stats on @Yahoosports rather than game. It is mesmerizing emptiness, like LeBron's soul. http://is.gd/4Mt9K