by Patrick ‘Rey’ Reynell
Taking away playing time always gets their attention.
Byron Scott did just that to rejuvenate his sluggish starters against the Washington Wizards Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
The Cavs (22-42) continued their home dominance over their Eastern Conference foe by winning 95-90. They are now 10-2 in the last 12 home games versus the Wizards (20-42).
John Wall arguably had his best game since returning from injury with a game high 27 points and 14 assists. The Wizards are 15-13 since his return after starting 5-28 without him.
Dion Waiters led the Cavs with 21 points.
The Cavs overcame what seemed to be an ominous start to show that there is life left to their season.
After 3 Martell Webster three-pointers, the Wizards took an opening 11-0 lead to start the game. The soft defense did not sit well with Cavs’ hhead coach Byron Scott.
After a timeout, he substituted all his starters except Shaun Livingston, filling in at point guard for the injured Kyrie Irving, and opted for Marreese Speights, Luke Walton, C.J. Miles, and Wayne Ellington.
The strategy worked as the Cavs were able to lock down defensively and cut the deficit to 13-11. Miles once again provided a much needed scoring spark off the bench.
He hit two threes during that stretch and has been shooting 50% from the field since the all-star break, finishing this game with his seventh straight double-digit performance with 10 pints.
The Wizards, however, began to take advantage in the frontcourt.
Wall was able to make easy post entries to Nene and Emeka Okafor. Subsequently, the duo punished Cleveland early and often despite double teams coming from Wall’s defender. The strategy was to make the Wizards’ point guard, who gets 40% of his shots at the rim, a jump-shooter.
The offensive lull was only temporary as Washington took a commanding 33-20 lead after one quarter. Credit the interior passing and offensive rebounds of the Wizards frontcourt for the brief resurgence.
Scott gave his starters a second chance and Tristan Thompson assertively made his presence known on offense. He often faced up Nene and attacked the bigger post player off the dribble. Thompson displayed a deft cross-over dribble to score an and-1 giving the Cavs their first lead, 40-39.
Cleveland would finish the first half on a 23-11 run despite Wall’s 16 points and 7 assists.
In the second half, the Cavs began to take advantage of Thompson’s face-up game. Movement and cutting was clearly a focus as the Cavs began to find their groove offensively.
This was most obvious when Thompson assisted to a cutting Ellington for a lay-in to end the third quarter.
The Wizards, despite their hot start, finished the second and third quarters with just 16 points each.
Leading 76-65 lead, the Cavs began making defensive adjustments. They started to go under ball-screens to force the Wizard guards to have to shoot from long range. They also began showing double teams from the back-side post, causing Washington’s perimeter players to hesitate on post entries.
As a result, Nene and Okafor found few touches in the fourth outside of offensive rebounds. Martell Webster, the league’s fourth best three-point shooter, nearly shot the Wizards back into it with a late three under the 3 minute mark. He finished 5-11 from downtown for 17 points.
Cleveland’s Alonzo Gee was not to be outdone; he hit a late three of his own. The small forward finished with 4 from beyond the arc and 17 points as well.
After trading a couple baskets, The Wizards finally cut it to one possession with under a minute to go. On the Cavs’ ensuing possession, Livingston missed a floater just outside the lane. He was able to get his hands in on the rebound and force a jump ball against Nene.
Despite giving up four inches to the 6’11” center, Livingston tipped the ball back to Waiters. He would hit four free throws down the stretch to seal the victory for Cleveland.
Washington travels to Milwaukee tomorrow night to face the Bucks.
The Cavs will travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks Friday.