Key Legislature: Wizards 115 vs Cavs 121 — The Old Switcheroo and Kyrie Too | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 115 vs Cavs 121 — The Old Switcheroo and Kyrie Too

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Updated: January 7, 2016

TAI’s Key Legislature… The game’s defining moment, its critical event, the wildest basketball thing you ever saw, or just stuff that happened. Wizards vs. Cavaliers, Regular Season Game 33, Jan. 6, 2016, by Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace) from the Verizon Center, D.C.

We join this regularly scheduled recap already in progress at the start of the third quarter. Don’t worry about what you missed in the first half. It was a hodge-podge of mostly unforgettable, often ugly, and occasionally entertaining basketball plays that led to neither team having an advantage—until John Wall’s no good, terrible, very bad three-minute stretch to end the half (turnover, turnover, shot blocked, turnover, shot blocked) that allowed Cleveland to build a 62-50 advantage.

The real action began in the third quarter, where the teams combined to score 72 points. The period started innocently enough with John Wall and Kevin Love trading jumpers. Then LeBron summoned his inner Jarrell Eddie (circa December 26) and went nuts from downtown hitting three straight 3-pointers in 44 seconds to build an 18-point Cleveland lead. It happened so fast that front-running Cavs fans in D.C. barely had enough time to wake up from their first half nap to cheer for their hometown hero-turned-villain-turned-hero. After an errant heat check, James added another 3-pointer for good measure.

The game looked like it was getting out of control and Randy Wittman, who already picked up a technical in the first half, started jawing with the refs. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was angling for an early exit.

Then—just like that—the script flipped. “Isn’t that the beautiful thing about NBA basketball? An 18-point lead can go away at the drop of a hat,” Cavs coach David Blatt mused after the game.

Wall and Garrett Temple teamed up to score or assist seven on straight field goals for 17 points in under four and a half minutes, including three 3-pointers by Temple, to cut the deficit to three in dramatic fashion.

If not for Wall slipping on the floor, which led to a J.R. Smith buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the period, the score could have been tied entering the fourth quarter, as opposed to 95-89 in favor of Cleveland.

No matter, with Wall on the bench, Washington quickly erased the remaining deficit with six straight points in the first 1:07 of the fourth quarter, punctuated by a vintage Nene strong-armed robbery of Kyrie Irving at mid-court that led to a rare Ramon Sessions dunk. Game tied. 95-95.

This is where the hero of the story emerged. Irving was playing in his seventh game after returning from a knee injury and was coming off a 25-point (10-for-16 FG) game against Toronto. There were whispers before the game that Irving might be getting close to his regular self. Wonder no more. Kyrie is back.

Irving put on a jaw-dropping 12-minute display of ball-handling, contorted finishes in the lane, and contested jumpers, which all added up to 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and Cleveland pulled away for an easy 121-115 win (buffered by a meaningless wide-open 3 for Wall at the end of the game). Now that you know “what” happened, we can turn to the question of “why” it happened.

The Curious Case of the Missing Adjustment.

Kyrie’s performance was as dominant as Washington’s defensive strategy was puzzling. The Wizards switched on every pick, which meant Kyrie could create a mismatch against a bigger, slower defender whenever he wanted. And that’s exactly what he did. Washington never doubled Irving on the perimeter, either. After a handful of made baskets, the Wizards appeared worried about switches and failed to properly pressure the ball, making Irving’s job even easier.

In his post-game press conference, Randy Wittman seemed to acknowledge that the defense was not working: “We will look at what we can do better, obviously, when we look at the film and make some adjustments there.”

Unfortunately, you have to wait until a game is over to watch the film. Washington needed to make in-game adjustments based on what they were seeing in real-time.

That’s exactly what David Blatt did in the fourth quarter when he shifted to a more iso-heavy offense. “Washington went small and they were switching every pick-and-roll, every screen, and it’s difficult to move the ball in a normal fashion and play the same type of offense that maybe we were playing early in the game,” Blatt said. “We had to depend on some of the one-on-one skills that our players have.”

Fortunately for Blatt, he has two of the best iso players in the league on his roster. LeBron said after the game he does not like playing too much iso because it is inefficient, but he will make an exception when Kyrie has it rolling.

Blatt also pulled the old switcheroo (or is it what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?) on Wittman defensively, electing to match Randy’s small ball lineup and switch all screens just like the Wizards. This defensive scheme, which is designed to protect the 3-point line and force the offense to play one-on-one, is much more effective against Washington’s roster—which has few, if any, effective one-on-one players—than it is against Cleveland. Not to mention the fact that Cleveland’s small ball lineup has much better individual defenders than Washington’s.

The result: Washington, which relied exclusively on prolific long-range shooting (8-for-11 3PT) during their furious third-quarter comeback, was shut out from 3-point range in the fourth quarter (save for two meaningless baskets by Wall in the final 30 seconds).

“There was a stretch when we were tied 95-95, then we went on a run of 15-2,” Blatt said. “There’s the time that we did get stops and used our switching defense, and that probably was the difference in the game.”

Epilogue.

Things are starting to get a little precarious for the Wizards, as they fell to three games under .500 and 12th place in the improved Eastern Conference. When Dave Blatt was asked before the game whether his team is playing its best basketball of the season, he responded, “I’d like to think around playoff time that’s when your gonna play your best basketball.”

That may be true for the Cavs, who are guaranteed a playoff spot, but it does not hold true for the Wizards. Over the last two seasons Washington has been able to coast through the regular season then spring to life in the playoffs with impressive first-round wins. They do not have that same luxury this year. With 12 teams battling for eight spots, if Washington continues to sleepwalk until April, there will not be a postseason stage for them to shine on.

Playoffs? Playoffs…?

While we are talking about playoffs, there is a pretty big game in D.C. this weekend between the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers. LeBron James, who is a big Cowboys fan, was asked during morning practice for his thoughts on the game: “Go, Aaron Rodgers.”

Never mind him, I caught up with everyone’s favorite Redskins fan and D.C. sports institution, Walter, aka ‘Pump It Up Man,’ to get his thoughts on the big game.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.