were missing two of their best players, with Gilbert Arenas and Caron
Butler out with injuries.
other words, the Washington Wizards had the Cavs exactly where they
wanted them. And they almost shocked the Cavs, who played down
to the level of their competition yet again. Washington held double-digit
leads more than once in the game (that sounds more impressive than saying
“twice”) and led well into the fourth quarter before Cleveland
finally pulled away to win, 99-94.
game was close in the first half; indeed, the lead changed 11 times
during that time frame. The Wizards’ Antawn Jamison carried
his team, scoring 21 points in the first half alone. Washington
pulled away somewhat towards the end of the second quarter, scoring
that last nine points of the quarter to take a 53-45 lead at intermission.
halftime, Washington extended their lead to 10 points, and that seemed
to finally wake the Cavs out of their slumber. They scored the
next 11 points, setting off another round of Let’s Pass The Lead Back
And Forth. The lead would change seven more times (and the game
would be tied five additional times, for good measure) until a pair
of Larry Hughes free throws, which made the score 82-80, gave the Cavs
a lead that they would not surrender. LeBron James scored ten
point in the last two and a half minutes (including a resounding dunk
after a baseline drive) to put the game away.
a miserable 7-of-23 night from the floor, LeBron scored 25 points to
lead the Cavs. (His five assists were also a team high, and his
six rebounds were pretty close.) Zydrunas Ilgauskas had another
strong game, shooting 8-of-13 from the field on his way to 18 points.
Jamison finished with 27 points for the Wizards, who had a total of
six players make it into double digits.
victory pushed the Cavs’ record to 46-31. Because the Bulls
also won last night (they turned the New Jersey Nets into their own
personal punching bags), the two teams remain tied in the standings.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, Chicago owns the tiebreaker between the
two teams (they have a 12-4 record in divisional games, while the Cavs’
record in such games is 9-5; even if the Cavs win both of their remaining
divisional games, they still will not catch Chicago). Accordingly,
Cleveland will need to have a better record than Chicago to claim the
second position in the conference.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME:
Just The Facts, Ma’am:
A consistent two-part theme in this column is that:
That’s why the Cavs’ typical
M.O. of bombing away from long range whenever they fall into a funk
causes about a 40 point rise in my blood pressure. And that’s
why this sequence of shots during the Cavs’ third quarter comeback
from a ten point deficit makes me want to sing with joy:
And that’s how you score.
(Especially when you don’t have anybody who can consistently hit from
outside. But that’s another topic for another time. Say,
eight paragraphs from now.)
Ira: Put yourself
in this position. You’ve dreamed all your life of playing in
the NBA. You’ve worked your tail off to make it happen.
You played college ball at a respectable school, but not one of the
major NBA player production lines. On draft night, your phone
never rang. You kept working, opened a few eyes, and got your
break. You bounced around the league for a few years, with no
real job security, until you finally received a long-term deal from
a team. Immediately, said team was roundly criticized for giving
you a long-term deal. Those critics said that you’re too slow,
not athletic enough, not a good enough shooter, and not a lot of other
things … as though it’s your fault that somebody handed you millions
forward four years. You’re now an almost-invisible man.
Your career allows you to do what you love to do for a living … but
your circumstances are that you almost never get to do it. It’s
like a punishment devised by one of the gods with a sicker sense of
humor. You’ve been through some painful injuries. You
play so seldom that mail at your home is starting to arrive addressed
to “Ira Newble, DNP-CD.” , When you do make it into a game,
you draw the ire of those whom you want to cheer for you. Your
contract runs for one more year, and when it’s up, you know that your
chances of getting another deal are approximately zero. You’re
32 years old, in a profession where 32 year olds are over the hill.
I don’t shed tears for Ira Newble. But I do appreciate the difficulties
of his situation. And that’s why it is particularly great to
see Ira have a good game. Last night, Ira hit both of the three-pointers
he took, scoring nine points overall. At least as importantly,
he grabbed two offensive rebounds in the final three minutes of the
game (that’s right, he was in the game when it really mattered).
One of those rebounds led to the James dunk previously described; the
other resulted in a put-back attempt and a pair of free throws.
not going to lobby for Ira Newble in the starting lineup, or even in
the main bench rotation. He is what he is. But what he is,
is a veteran who can stay ready and help his team win on a night where
most others can’t get the job done. Last night, that’s exactly
what he did.
On The Top 10 Plays Of The
Day List, This One Should Be Around #6: Cavs trailing, 76-74,
with about nine minutes remaining in the game. Washington’s
DeShawn Stevenson missed a jumper. Donyell Marshall tracked down
the rebound along the baseline, took a step, and heaved a court-length
pass. A cry of “what are you doing?” went up from living rooms
scattered throughout the greater Cleveland metropolis. But Marshall
knew what he was doing – LeBron had leaked downcourt after the shot,
pulled in the pass like he did as a wide receiver at St. Vincent-St.
Mary (so this is what it is like to be Fred McLeod), and dunked
the ball. And with that, a chorus of “great play, Donyell!”
went up from living rooms scattered throughout the greater Cleveland
The Streak Is At Seven:
That’s right. The Cavs’ improbable streak of drawing praise
for their free-throw shooting is now at seven games. Why?
Because they made 29 of their 37 attempts (a 78% success clip), including
15 of 19 in the fourth quarter. (Granted, that wasn’t quite
as good as their performance the previous night against Miami, but 100%
is kind of difficult to top.) Maybe more impressive is that they
made it to the line 37 times (in contrast, Washington shot only 22 free
throws the entire game).
those keeping track, the Cavs are now six percentage points ahead of
Miami at the cellar of the NBA’s free throw shooting statistics (Cleveland
is at .697; Miami, .691). It would take quite a flurry to catch
the third-worst team (Orlando, at .703), but it is not out of the question.
More significantly, the Cavs are finally succeeding at a vital component
of playoff basketball, just in time for the playoffs.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT
It’s Not Supposed To Be A
Three Act Play: The Cavs’ offense last night followed their
usual three-part script:
LeBron Who?: The team runs its offense mainly through Ilgauskas,
and makes a concerted effort to get the ball in the hands of everybody
other than LeBron. Indeed, LBJ usually acts as though the ball
carries the Mutaba virus, hiding in one corner while his teammates work
the ball around the other half of the court. This act usually
ends with the Cavs holding a lead, or at least not losing by much.
ACT II: The Waiting For
The Bus: LeBron starts taking over the game. All too
often, his teammates take that as a sign to stand around while LeBron
dribbles, dribbles, and dribbles some more. The offense stagnates,
and the seemingly inevitable dry spell (where the Cavs will not hit
a field goal for what seems like an entire half) will leave the Cavs
trailing, often by double digits.
ACT III: The Fire Drill:
At some point in the second half, the alarm goes off for the Cavs.
They realize that they are about to piss away yet another game.
They start playing inspired defense, often creating turnovers that lead
to easy breakaway hoops. They drive to the basket relentlessly,
drawing plenty of fouls and resulting in lots of free throws.
LeBron plays like the superstar that he is. And they come back.
drama is in the timing. If Act III begins early enough, then the
ending is a happy one. If Act III is delayed too long, then the
play ends with the opponents raising their arms in glory and the “Cleveland”
jersey being buried under a pile of dung as the curtain is lowered.
sure about you, but I’ve gotten tired of this play. When you
know that the team is capable of an Act III-level performance, and that
Act I is pretty good as well, then you’ll never be happy with Act
Speaking Of Threes, The Cavs
Can’t Make Them: As a team, the Cavs were 2-of-9 (22%) from
three point range last night; if you remove players named “Ira Newble”,
they laid an 0-of-7 goose egg. LeBron missed all three of his
attempts from long distance (and by my count, all three of his attempts
were the “lean back to the left and fire away” variety, the kind
that he almost never makes).
also missed both of his attempts. Donyell used to be blackjack
from behind the arc – he wouldn’t make it half of the time, but
he was pretty close to that. Continuing that analogy, he is now
the Lotto of three-point shooting. There’s a chance that he
will hit, but now it is a surprise, rather than a regularly recurring
event. When he spots up, I automatically scan under the basket,
to see if any Cavs are in position for the offensive rebound.
Department Of Completely Unrelated
Whining: As Prince once sang (and as the Beacon-Journal’s
excellent Brian Windhorst noted in his blog), sometimes it snows in April.
That doesn’t mean that we want it to, especially when we’re going
to run a half-marathon in a few hours. But I’ve made it 37 years
by telling myself that this weather build character; one more day of
lying to myself won’t hurt. (Besides, without this weather,
how could we get an absurd Indians game in which they string out four-and-a-half-minus-one-pitch
innings over four hours, only to call the game?)
WHAT LIES AHEAD:
Cavs have one more tough road game, in Detroit against the Pistons,
on Sunday afternoon. Then they’ll finish out the schedule over
the next two weeks against New Jersey and Atlanta, at Philadelphia,
and against Milwaukee.