Wall Controls Midrange, Wizards Dominate Cavs Before West Coast Trip | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wall Controls Midrange, Wizards Dominate Cavs Before West Coast Trip

Updated: March 28, 2017

The Wizards weren’t quite desperate for a dominant road win over a quality opponent. But against this particular opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers, they needed it more than just about anything. With a 127-115 win in the Land last Saturday night, Washington pulled its road record to 16-18. They started 0-5 away from home and eventually 3-12 before turning things around early in the calendar year. Your math is right: they are 13-6 since, and that includes three straight road losses just before winning in Cleveland.

Generalist post-game narratives focused on what’s wrong with Cleveland. And that’s fair (they are the defending champs), but the Wizards just don’t care. By Defensive Rating, however, it was the Cavaliers’ second-worst performance this season (136.8), with six of their eight worst outings coming in the month of March. And for Washington’s part, that rate was their best offensive performance of the season, with three of their best eight Offensive Rating outputs coming this month. Cleveland’s defensive rut clearly helped — they would go on to lose to the Spurs in San Antonio, 74-103, on Monday night, fielding their 30th best (or lowest) DefRtg out of 73 games to-date.

But what went right for the Wizards in Cleveland? They led by as much as 17, led by an average of more than eight points over the game’s duration, and limited the three ties and four lead changes to the first four-plus minutes of the first quarter. Washington punched first, and that charge was led by John Wall — 18 first quarter points on 8-for-8 shooting, 2-for-2 from the 3-point line, and not one free throw attempt. Wall even managed to drop five dimes (two turnovers) in playing all 12 opening minutes. He finished 6-for-13 over the rest of the game (8-21 total, 2-2 on 3s, 7-8 on FTs) with six assists and one turnover (11 and 3 total). Wall dominated with 37 points — the third highest total of his career.

Regardless of Cleveland’s defensive woes, when Wall’s midrange shot is on and established early, the Wizards set a tough precedent in being hard to beat. For the rest of the game, defenses have it ingrained in their mind to pay slightly more attention to Wall the jump shooter instead of Wall the passer or driver, no matter how much their coaches tell them not to. Never a good thing for them.

A 15-footer from the right elbow tied the game at four. Cleveland had just completed a Kyrie Irving to Tristan Thompson alley-oop. Irving followed that by gambling — throwing a hand up, attempting to deflect Washington’s inbounds pass — but Wall caught the ball and trotted down the court in an elementary manner to hit the midrange jumper as Thompson sunk into the paint. Why would you even test Wall’s transition game by putting yourself out of position?

Later, after a couple Wall 3-pointers, J.R. Smith (rightly) went under a Marcin Gortat screen. Wall answered that with a 20-footer from the left wing to put the Wizards up 17-12. Part of it is that there wasn’t much Smith could do. The other part is that Smith was semi-casual in getting around the screen, relatively casual in contesting, and Cleveland’s help scheme was not in tune.

Third midrange jumper — just past the midway mark of the first with Wall’s confidence blooming (12 points at that juncture), he dribbled and stared down Smith on the right as Wall’s teammates cleared left. Hand down, man down — Smith was clueless about what to do, how much space to give Wall, anything. Wall didn’t really need to create space with a step-back chock full of six-plus seasons of sweat and hard work. But he did, and it seemed a hundred times easier than reality, and it put Washington up 23-15.

Finally, nearly two minutes after the last other starter (Bradley Beal) had been subbed out of the game, Washington forced a switch of Kevin Love onto Wall and the point guard calmly walked into a 19-footer from the left elbow.

The Wizards led after one quarter, 40-26, and the seeds were planted. Despite Cleveland outscoring the Wizards 65-56 over the next two quarters to pull within five points, 91-96, entering the fourth, Washington never really looked back. Wall dominated the evening and allowed his teammates to seal the deal.

Kelly Oubre, whose defense has returned to promising form (which is what Scott Brooks said was the key to more playing time), scored 10 points in the fourth quarter — two assisted buckets from Beal, a drive past Kyle Korver that earned him two free throws, and two putback layups. Oubre contributed 16 points in total but returned to being a shining light of promise on defense (and helped hold Irving to 0-3 shooting in the final period).

Bradley Beal book-ended the team effort with nine of his 27 points in the first quarter, and then nine in fourth quarter to keep the Cavs at bay. The Wizards returned to their team effort ways — seven Wizards scored in double figures. Again, and sure, attribute some of that to Cleveland’s defense, but Scott Brooks’ arrangement is just the type ripe for exposing such. Allowing the Cavs to score 65 points over quarters two and three isn’t bad when they’re held to 52 points over quarters one and four, particularly when Washington’s bench playing well.

With the Cavaliers being further exposed by San Antonio on Monday, Boston has taken over a half-game lead for first in the East. The Wizards are 2.5 games out of first, two games out of second, and a half-game up on the fourth seeded Raptors. With a challenging schedule ahead (four West Coast games versus both L.A. teams, Utah, and Golden State), the Wizards, according to PlayoffStatus.com, have just a 34 percent chance to keep the third seed and a 62 percent chance to fall to fourth, which might not be such a bad thing if the goal is to avoid LeBron James until the conference finals.

Most important, however, is building a better sense of momentum heading into the postseason. Since the All-Star break, Washington’s starting unit is actually giving up 2.6 points per 100 possessions more than they score. In one sense, that is cause for concern, particularly on the defensive end as each starter is capable of major lapses. But in another sense, Washington’s unit knows how to turn it on when it counts, especially when focused on a single opponent over the course of the series. What’s key to the momentum is the starters, the coaches, the whole team, now knowing that they can count on the second unit. Earlier this season, the subs seemed destined to punch a hole in the season. Since the break, a lineup of Brandon Jennings, Bojan Bogdanovic, Kelly Oubre, Jason Smith, and Ian Mahinmi have outscored opponents by 15.2 per 100 possessions (over 52 minutes). As individuals during the same time, Bogdanovic is plus-5.8 per 100 possessions, Smith is plus-13, Mahinmi is plus-8.1, Jennings is plus-6.6, and Oubre is barely there at minus-0.5.

As Wall and Beal naturally lead the sled, and as Scott Brooks strives for consistency for the rest of the pack, the Wizards are lining up a balanced attack with sustainable, albeit potentially precarious, defense. You can’t get much more home stretch than the final eight games of the season, and a still-untested team like the Wizards could always use a couple more days to build what they hope might turn into Rome, at least their version. The path to the NBA Finals is much more wide open than originally believed.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.