I’m glad it happened.
If the Cavs were going to lose Game 3 against the Washington Wizards this past Thursday night I’d rather have it be that 36 point loss that the Wizards hung on them than a buzzer-beater or a hard fought, bitterly contested defeat.
Thursday night should have served as a punch in the face, a kick to the cookies or whatever else you want to call something painful and embarrassing that you’re not likely to forget. Losing to the Wizards should not be what’s alarming to Cavs fans. Losing to the Wizards by 36 points isn’t even the reason to be alarmed. The reason to be alarmed is that the regular season sluggishness and lack of any sense of urgency reared its ugly head again and bit this team hard.
That wasn’t the plan. The plan was to navigate through the regular season and acquire one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference. That less than creative and impassioned approach, despite a late season trade that turned over half the roster, ultimately worked. It wasn’t pretty. Injuries and roster turmoil don’t allow for aesthetically pleasing basketball. But lack of passion and taking a game off wasn’t supposed to extend into the post season.
But that’s certainly what we saw on Thursday night. We saw the regular season approach utilized in a playoff game and it got ugly quickly and then went south from there. The Cavs displayed no hunger, no cohesiveness and no intensity. Not exactly the recipe for playoff success.
But that may have been the best thing to could have happened to this Cavalier team. The devastation was so complete, the embarrassment so tangible that a team with any pride is going to use it to its advantage. No athlete in any sport likes to be embarrassed or shown up. The Cavs were both this past Thursday. And the Cavs players are smart enough to know that another such ‘performance’ is likely to take them down a road in this series that they don’t want to go down.
Expect a return to the norm on Sunday in D.C. The norm mean pounding the ball inside, taking it aggressively to the basket and making the Wizards earn every point they put on the board. That’s the route the Cavs took to an early 2-1 series lead and it’s the route they’ll have to employ if they are to win the series.
In the first two games of the series the Cavaliers held the Wizards to 38.9% shooting on 60/154 FG attempts. The Wizards averaged 13 turnovers per game and shot 22.5% from 3-point range. Meanwhile, the Cavs were averaging just 9 turnovers per game themselves and killing the Wizards with an inside out approach that left Washington reeling. The Cavs road woes are well documented, but the turnaround in Game 3 went well beyond the Wizards home crowd ‘white-out’ and home cooking.
On Thursday night the Wizards shot 52% from the floor and 42% from the floor. Washington has some capable scorers. But those scorers were permitted open looks and unencumbered trips to the rim all night and there was very little in the harassment department from the Cavalier defense. Further making matters worse than just playing disinterested defense was the fact the Cavs carried that defensive laziness over to the offensive side of the ball and committed an egregious and staggering 23 turnovers themselves.
These two teams are a lot more evenly matched than the Cavs 30 point blowout win in Game 2 or the Wizard 36 point romp in Game 3 would indicate. But the Cavs are the better basketball team when they show up and actually put forth an honest effort. Especially with Gilbert Arenas slowed by injuries (hard to imagine Larry Hughes as an Iron Horse compared to anyone in the NBA but he may be just that when you compare him to Arenas).
The plan is simple and familiar: keep the game close by actually exerting some effort on the defensive side and then let #23 take over late. Any other playoff plan should be shredded immediately and its creator forced to endure a long car trip with DeShawn Stevenson. The Cavs employ arguably the most talented player in the game in LeBron James. Utilize that luxury to its fullest extent. LBJ is going to have to take some lumps by attacking the rack and kicking the ball out occasionally to his wing men. Those wing men need to knock down enough shots to keep from being a complete joke.
Creating a little contact won’t hurt either. That doesn’t mean ‘thugging’ it up. It means making Washington pay for each trip into the lane. Not only is it a solid approach regardless of the time of the year, but it’s also likely to provoke the Wizards into reverting back to their laughable ‘bad-ass’ persona that brought them so much success and us so much laughter in the first two games of the series.