Wizards build early lead but Cavaliers shoot their way to victory
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
CLEVELAND -- So many players have come and gone, and there have been so many dramatic shifts in the directions of the franchises that an early November meeting between the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers didn't exactly inspire the same passions as when they were seemingly making annual springtime meetings. New Wizard Randy Foye was so out of the loop that he had to search DeShawn Stevenson and LeBron James on YouTube to get caught up on what has fueled some deep-rooted tensions.
Both teams have moved on from those times, with the Wizards hiring a coach with suburban Cleveland roots in Flip Saunders and the Cavaliers finding a larger-than-life personality to pair with James in Shaquille O'Neal. And in the first of just three meetings this season -- barring a fourth postseason matchup in five seasons -- the Wizards jumped out to an early 18-point lead, but they were unable to withstand James, O'Neal, and a second-half three-point barrage as they lost, 102-90.
"The intensity, everything was still there," Caron Butler said. "We were competing at a high level. It was one of those games we had and fortunately, we wasn't able to keep the energy up and walk away with the 'W.' "
Butler, back after missing the previous game with a bruised left knee cap, had 22 points and Gilbert Arenas had 22, seven rebounds and five assists, but they were unable to prevent the Wizards from losing their fifth consecutive regular season game at Quicken Loans Arena. The Wizards have not won in Cleveland since Feb. 24, 2006.
James had a game-high 27. O'Neal had a season-high 21 and the Cavaliers made nine three-pointers in the second half to prevail. "We played good enough in spurts to win the game, but it's a 48-minute game," Mike Miller said after scoring 12 points with eight rebounds. "They played all 48."
The Wizards led 39-21 early in the second period, but they were outscored, 81-51, the rest of the game. The Cavaliers locked down defensively, neutralizing the Wizards' primary offensive weapons -- Butler and Arenas, who combined for 23 points in the first quarter, but scored just 21 in the final three. Then, on offense, the Cavaliers pounded the ball inside to O'Neal, who drew foul after foul on the Wizards' big men. Wizards center Brendan Haywood fouled out and Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were both limited because of early fouls. Haywood, Blatche, McGee and Fabricio Oberto had a combined 12 fouls in the first half.
"You read in between the lines the way you want to," Haywood said. "I couldn't be aggressive, Dray couldn't be aggressive. No one could because you knew you were strapped with fouls. Tough situation because you don't want to talk bad about the referees. I can't give you too much, but I was frustrated the way it was called. I can't get in trouble for that."
Haywood picked up two fouls in just six seconds in the second period and the Cavaliers slowly chipped away, with James taking advantage of his absence to make aggressive drives to the basket. The Wizards' large lead was down to just four points at halftime and Saunders said, "It was tough to get the mojo back."
In the second half, the Wizards stopped moving the ball and relied almost exclusively on the foul line, where they got 17 of their 36 points. After having six assists in the first quarter, the Wizards had just six the rest of the game. "If you pass up an open jump shot and take a couple of dribbles to get your rhythm, it shuts down your timing as a team," Arenas said. "It's frustrating, but at the end of the day, when you only get 29 shots in the whole second half and only make nine of them, you're not going to win that game."
The Cavaliers missed 10 of their 12 three-point attempts in the first half, but caught fire in the second half, as they shot 9 for 13.
O'Neal had his best game since arriving in Cleveland and endeared himself with the fans when he delivered a hard foul on Stevenson, dropping Cleveland's least favorite Wizard to the ground. "I hit him, fell on the ground, it hurt real bad," Stevenson said. "That's part of basketball. He apologized at halftime."
But his greatest influence on the game was knocking out the Wizards' front line and knocking down free throws. O'Neal was 7 of 10 from the line. "That's the bonus of adding Shaq to the team," Miller said. "He'll help these guys. Now you've got a big guy who can really bang and put our big guys in a lot of foul trouble. We got to find a way to stop fouling."