The Cleveland Cavaliers’ lead in the Eastern Conference is slipping away, as they drop their Saturday night match-up against the Washington Wizards 127-115.
If you were hoping a showdown against the Wizards would inspire a defensive effort from the Cavaliers, you probably were left disappointed. The Wizards blitzed the Cavs throughout the first half, lead by a phenomenal effort from John Wall.
Wall recorded 24 points and 6 assists on 10-11 shooting in the first half. While the bulk of his scoring came from outside the paint, Wall was clearly in a zone and wearing out the Cavs on the defensive end.
Throughout the first half the story really was the Wizards taking advantage of individual match-ups. The team would run simple pick and rolls to generate switches defensively, and then capitalizing on mismatches.
While the Cavs would make runs offensively, the lack of resistance the Wizards faced on the defensive end negated any hopes of evening out the game by half.
Truth be told, the team was fortunate to only be down ten points at the half. Wall and Beal were tremendous throughout the first half as the Cavs surrendered 70+ first half points for the second time in the past week.
To start the third, the Cavs came out with noticeably more defensive effort. While the team was providing more resistance, they struggled to cut into the lead early on. When you let a team get into a rhythm, getting them out of their groove becomes much more difficult. The basket seems a lot larger once you’ve seen a few go down.
The signature trait of this Cavs team appears to be making things more difficult than they need to be. Whether it be going into a 3-1 hole in the NBA Finals, or spotting teams an lead early in games, they seem to only provide the requisite intensity only when it’s needed. It’s certainly not the healthiest habit to have, and one that could come back to bite the team at any given moment.
While the team has had it’s share of struggles recently, the one constant has been the play of it’s stars. Tonight was the first time in awhile that we received an uneven effort from the teams stars. Irving in particular struggled to hit the jump-shots that he typically hit, while he and James both made countless mental lapses down the stretch that prevented the comeback from coming to fruition.
While the defensive effort came in flashes, there were a few highlights from the Cavs. Irving in particular came up with a few key steals and blocks that helped cut the Wizards lead down to five in the third quarter.
One of the biggest x-factors for the Wizards was the play of Kelly Oubre Jr. He came up with several clutch rebounds to help put a stop to the Cavs comeback efforts. The Cavs left themselves vulnerable on the offensive glass by playing James at center for a significant stretch. While it worked with Jason Smith at center, when the Wizards went small, they once again extended their lead to ten points.
In the last two minutes of the game Tyronn Lue pulled the starters down twelve, as they had clearly blown any chance at a comeback. While it seemed as though they might be able to come away with a comeback victory, each of those opportunities wound up being spoiled.
The Cavs will try to bounce back Monday in San Antonio. The team will need to play with much more discipline if they want to avoid another letdown.