WE ARE ALL WITNESSES... to suffocating Wizards defense?
For the first time this season, I can honestly say that the Zards won a game with their half-court defense. We switched up our defensive philosophy after the Game 1 double-teaming debacle, Lebron was frustrated all game, and the Big 3 scored enough this time to pull out a win in a hard fought defensive battle.
This win was all about our defensive strategy against Lebron. First of all, we let Caron Butler and Jared Jeffries cover Lebron one-on-one. But rather than body up on him, we sagged off him and dared him to shoot jumpers. As is often the case, Lebron couldn't hit from the perimeter with any kind of consistency. Then, when he tried to drive to the basket, we put a body on him each and every time. Option 1 was to slide into position and attempt to take a charge. If he was able to avoid the charge, then we fouled him HARD to avoid giving up the lay-up. Both the charge calls and the physical play clearly frustrated Lebron, and he appeared more and more tentative in the half-court game after we clearly established our new philosophy in the first quarter. Meanwhile, with only one man dedicated to Lebron, he had a hard time finding open men (just 2 assists in the game), and Cleveland's spot-up shooters were rendered ineffective. Donyell Marshall only managed as many field goal attempts this game as he had 3-point makes last game (3).
Essentially, our defensive philosophy led to Cleveland's offense consisting of:
- Long jumpers from LeBron.
- Spot-up jumpers or contested drives in the half-court offense from Larry Hughes, a player whose game is basically only effective in the open court.
- One-on-one post-up opportunities for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has always struggled to score on Brendan Haywood.
- Post-ups and offensive rebound putbacks from Drew Gooden, which was basically the only consistent offense the Cavs had all game. Gooden was 11 of 12 from the field, and dominated Antawn Jamison on the offensive end.
The results? LeBron, Hughes, and Ilgauskas combined to score just 51 points on 15-for-53 shooting (28%). As a team, the Cavs shot 36%.
Offensively, it still wasn't pretty, but we did enough to win. Gilbert led the way with 30 points, despite the fact that he didn't play particularly well (by HIS standards). He was extremely tentative in the first quarter, so much so that I was screaming at the TV for him to play more aggressively to jumpstart the offense. At halftime, Charles Barkley validated my argument by declaring that Gilbert needed to step up, be aggressive, and be the star when his offense wasn't clicking as a team. Luckily for the Wizards, Caron Butler really caught fire late in the 1st quarter, and the whole team seemed to come alive after that. Butler was our best offensive player in the first half, as he scored the majority of his 21 points in the first stanza, and it honestly felt like we would have been blown out if he hadn't stepped it up. In the 2nd half, Butler disappeared (partly due to foul trouble), but Jamison came alive. Antawn was especially huge in the 4th quarter, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the 4th quarter alone, including 2 enormous threes.
In the end, a game that played out as a defensive battle came to a fitting conclusion, as a beautiful strip by Gilbert Arenas underneath the basket iced the game. However, after I finished jumping up and down in celebration, I was left with one burning question. If LeBron had had one more rebound, would he have been credited with his 2nd straight playoff triple-double for a 26 point, 10 rebound, 10 turnover game?
This is OUR series now. This road win was the first big momentum swing in this series. We just have to head back to DC and protect our home court this weekend.
One more thing... did anybody else catch the split-second camera shot of Caron Butler right after the buzzer sounded? He turned toward LeBron, and mimicking the pre-game clip of LeBron that ESPN and TNT have been incessantly showing since game 1, he pretended to throw chalk powder in the air and wave his hands to the crowd. (Haha, and right as I finished typing that passage, TNT just showed the clip in slow motion on the Spurs-Kings halftime show. I LOVE ME SOME TOUGH JUICE!)