Three And Out: The Cleveland Cavaliers Story | Wizards Blog Truth About

Three And Out: The Cleveland Cavaliers Story

Updated: November 12, 2016

The news broke before the game that Bradley Beal was out with a tight right hamstring and Marcus Thornton would start in his place. Not the words you want to hear an hour and a half before tip-off against the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cleveland is one of the best teams in the league at shooting 3-pointers and Washington is one of the worst at defending those shots. Thornton is a lot of things, but he is not a perimeter defender.

Scott Brooks noted the importance of defending the perimeter in his pre-game press conference:

“[The Cavs] are a great 3-point team, [making] 13 or some change a game and it’s one of our weaknesses at the moment, we’ve made six. We have to figure out ways to stop them in transition…. You’ve got to close out to all their great 3-point shooters.”

Despite the Wizards’ best intentions, they were not able to slow the Cavs 3-point roll and lost, 94-105. Nor could they make their own. Kelly Oubre, Jr. explained the problem afterward:

“They set a lot of screens. LeBron James is a focus point in their offense. When he drags the defense in, it is easier to kick out for open 3s. He puts a lot of pressure on defenses so you just have to maintain him, and close out to the shooters because that is all they do. That is what their role is, to shoot.”

As far as John Wall was concerned, the 3-point disparity was the difference in the game:

“They took 33 3s and made 14 of them. I think we made three out of 15…. That’s basically the game right there.”

While 3-point shooting may have been the deciding factor, the game was not played entirely 23 feet from the basket.

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb.

John Wall was shot out of a cannon to start the game. My guess is it was equal parts Beal’s absence and equal parts sending a message to Kyrie Irving truthers. Wall shot 17 times in 16.5 first half minutes with only two assists. No one was complaining, though, because his midrange jumper was falling and he hit 11 of those aforementioned 17 attempts for 23 points. It looked like Wall was on his way to a career game as Washington led 31-26 after the first quarter and trailed 58-56 after the second.

Unfortunately, as LeBron James explained, Cleveland stepped up its defense in the second half and made it a priority to clog the lane for Wall.

“Coach [Tyronn] Lue challenged us tonight and we definitely picked it up in the second half. John [Wall] is such a talented player and an All-Star point guard in this league. We just had to tighten it up a little bit more and we were able to do that.”

The result: Wall shot 1-for-7 with four turnovers in the second half, including back-to-back lost balls as Cleveland extended its lead to double-digits with five minutes left in the game.

Wall definitely seemed frustrated with his inability to get to the rim and the lack of calls when he did get there. He never got into a rhythm with his pick-and-roll partner Marcin Gortat (2-for-5 shooting in 25:42 minutes) and that is one reason why Wall only had one assist in the second half.

Wall’s turnovers have been the one black mark on his season which has gone remarkably well as he recovers from two off-season knee surgeries. Wall is third in the league in turnovers at 5.33 per game and he tends to pick up careless ones late in games when he forces the action.

Brooks was asked about Wall’s turnovers after the game:

“They were really crowding the ball tonight on our drives and we have to pass out of the crowd. John turned it over a couple times in the fourth quarter, he had a great game going. Those things happen. We just have to continue to trust the pass and make sure we pass before the crowd gets there.”

Those “passing out of a crowd” turnovers are exactly Wall’s problem at the end of games. He forces his way to the rim and does not look to pass until he is in the air and the defense has already surrounded him in the paint and cut off his passing lanes. Those fourth quarter ill-advised passes are the complete opposite of his usual assists where he already knows where he is passing before he starts his drive.

He’s Alive! He’s Alive!

With Beal unavailable, Kelly Oubre, Jr. made a triumphant return to the rotation with 10 points, 5-for-8 shooting, six rebounds, one steal, and one block in 21 minutes. It was Kelly’s best game of the season but Brooks hinted after the game that Oubre might not be ready to crack the rotation:

“I thought he was really solid on the offensive end…. I thought defensively he had some tough moments tonight but offensively he was solid.”

It’s those defensive lapses that have kept Oubre tied to the bench and it sounds like Brooks doesn’t quite trust him yet.

It would be a big plus for the rotation if Kelly could tighten up his defense because he is the one wing player on the roster who aggressively attacks the rim on offense. Sure, that same aggression gets him into trouble when he drives into crowds and gets rejected, but it’s refreshing to have a player run the break with Wall who looks to finish with a dunk instead of drifting to the 3-point line.

One particular play (video below) illustrates this point. Midway through the fourth quarter Oubre ignited a fast break by batting away an entry pass to Kevin Love. Wall pushed the ball up the court with Oubre streaking on the right side. Whereas Beal would have drifted to the corner for a 3-pointer, Oubre created a line to the rim and slammed an uncontested dunk.

A Shining Moment in a Season of Darkness.

The second unit has been bad all season. We know that. But you have to give credit where credit is due. Brooks had the intestinal fortitude to roll out Tomas Satoransky, Trey Burke, Sheldon McClellan, Oubre, and Jason Smith to start the fourth quarter against LeBron James, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Mike Dunleavy and Channing Frye.

The bench rewarded Brooks’ show of confidence with 10 points in four minutes to cut an 11 point deficit to five. Satoransky led the charge with two free throws and back-to-back jumpers, and McClellan and Burke each added a jumper of their own. In fact, Cleveland did not pull away for good until Wall and Markieff Morris subbed in for Satoransky and Jason Smith.

O Mahinmi, Mahinmi, Wherefore Art Thou Mahinmi?

Jason Smith played 14.5 minutes versus Cleveland. That’s 14.5 too many. Smith somehow managed to amass twice as many fouls and turnovers (6) as rebounds (3). He invents new ways to sabotage possessions each game.

But, it should be said, Smith is the first guy off the bench to cheer on his teammates during timeouts and appears to be a genuinely nice guy. Why should that be said? I don’t know. Just trying to say something nice because the guy is going to be here for a few years.

The point is, it’s easy to forget that Washington is still playing without its prized off-season acquisition. When Ian Mahinmi returns in a few weeks, Smith will be a full-time cheerleader and the second unit will be much improved.

Every Kiss Begins with Kay.

As if you needed a reminder that the Cavs won the NBA title last season, Cleveland’s media guide contains an ad for the team’s Kay Jewelers Championship jewelry collection, complete with “pendants, bracelets, earrings, cufflinks, and more.” If you are looking for a Christmas gift, order fast because most items are made to order and will take 8 to 10 weeks.

Oh, There Was Also More Free Chicken.

This time, Kevin Love did the honors.

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.