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Wizards get burned on switching strategy against red-hot Cavaliers

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In a game filled with runs, the Wizards gave the best team in the East, and possibly the third best team in the NBA a run for their money. After trailing for most of the second quarter and going down 17 at the beginning of the third, thanks to a flurry of 3 pointers from LeBron James, the Wizards made a valiant effort, backed by Garrett Temple’s hot shooting along with John Wall bouncing back from a putrid fisrt half, to come back in the game, and had even tied it at one point in the fourth quarter until Kyrie Irving took over the game, something almost no team in the league can stop.

So, why is this loss so upsetting? Why does it feel like a missed opportunity? Shouldn’t we be glad that the Wizards were able to keep pace with this team despite being banged up and that it took contested 3s by the struggling LeBron James and the streaky JR Smith to actually win?

The answer to this question can be found watching the team in the fourth quarter. A scheme which has allowed for liberal switching throughout Randy Wittman’s tenure (no matter how much he may deny it) intensified against Kyrie Irving in crunch time, and it was the Wizards downfall. Irving ended the game with 32 points on 14/22 shooting, but it honestly felt like more as he was dropping jumper after jumper, layup after layup, and hunting matchup after matchup. John Wall himself noted the fact that the Cavs took advantage of the Wizards switching after the game. "They did a great job, they knew we were switching pick and rolls with every guard we had so whoever they wanted to attack in the pick and roll, they ran pick and rolls to switch to"

The player who was victimized the most was Gary Neal, a player that gave a lot of effort trying to defend perhaps the best ball handler in basketball, but clearly was not known for his defensive ability and it showed. In most situations, isolation is likely a win for the defense, but not when Kyrie Irving is the ball handler and when Neal is the defender. To further complicate matters, the Wizards were playing Jared Dudley at center, which left no rim protector when Irving beat his man off the dribble. Garrett Temple seemed to be in favor of the process regardless of the result. "I mean, hindsight is 20/20. Honestly, if we were to say that LeBron was going to go 1-on-1 for the whole third quarter and that Kyrie was going to go 1-on-1 for the whole fourth quarter, you know, even though those guys are talented, we felt it would be to our advantage."

However, even though this might have been a well-intentioned strategy, there are still lingering questions. Why not try to put Oubre on the floor so there are not any defenders for Irving to exploit? Why not put in Gortat for extra rim protection?

These are all questions the Wizards will have to live with as they continue to fight for playoff contention in the East with a 15-18 record and a difficult stretch of games coming up. Whatever the Wizards planned for the Cavaliers’ elite 1 on 1 scorers did not work, and there are many indications it was due to more than just bad luck.