After a four-game winning streak, the Cleveland Cavaliers were dealt a loss by the Washington Wizards Wednesday evening, 97-94. It was a highly competitive, back-and-forth game until the very last seconds. For the Cavs, they fell on the short side of the stick after Kyle Kuzma drained two three-pointers within the last 24 seconds. Cleveland led 93-89 with only 30 seconds to go after Darius Garland hit a skying floater. At this point, it felt like the Cavs had this game sealed, but the Wizards never stopped fighting and came away with the win.
Washington’s Kuzma displayed his sharp-shooting with 22 points, shooting 66.7% (6/9) from three. He was the only Wizard that was reliable from deep all game long. Being down by four with 30 seconds to go, of course, they needed threes. The fact Washington got two wide-open looks for their best shooter of the night was inexcusable for the Cavs. The Cavaliers’ loss to the Wizards was due to defensive miscues at the worst time possible.
Analyzing the Cavaliers’ Defensive Mistakes
The first mistake came off an in-bound from Washington. Initially, Kuzma came across the baseline on a pindown screen action—this ended up being a mirage. Bradley Beal also ran the baseline after Kuzma with Daniel Gafford being the screener. Kuzma essentially lingered around the initial screener, creating confusion for Cleveland. As soon as Beal ran to his screener, Kuzma was lost in the shuffle and popped to the right-wing for a wide-open three. Beal received the in-bound pass in the left corner and found the open Kuzma for three, cutting the lead to one.
Good morning! Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell played their best games of the season last night on BOTH sides of the floor.
Let’s break it all down 📝
Wizards vs Cavaliers Film Breakdown
“Kuz Kontrol” | #WakeupWatches
— Quinton Mayo (@RealQuintonMayo) November 11, 2021
Ultimately, what went wrong here was communication between Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley in the paint. One of them had to pop out with Kuzma, but he ended up running scot-free to the three-point line. Notice how Allen ends up in no man’s land, floating around with no one to guard. This all happened since Allen’s attention was brought to the catcher, Beal. In turn, Kuzma was left wide-open. This was the first of two critical mistakes on the defensive end.
On Kuzma’s game-winning bucket, this was simply getting beat on the defensive end. Beal beat Lamar Stevens off the dribble and penetrated the paint. Mobley then had to rotate to give Stevens defensive help, this left Kuzma wide-open in the corner.
◽️ 22 PTS
◽️ 6/9 from three
◽️ 5 REB
And the game-winner for Kyle Kuzma 🔥
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) November 11, 2021
In this case, Mobley did the right thing by rotating. This happened because Stevens got beat and this was where Isaac Okoro was missed.
Cleveland was put in a Tough Spot in the Final Seconds
Okoro had a scary fall during the fourth quarter; Stevens came in as the replacement with Okoro missing the remainder of the game. This was a big loss since Okoro hounded Beal most of the night leading to a 4/19 shooting night for Beal. There is no doubt the second-year wing out of Auburn—who was the top defensive prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft— is a better on-ball defender than Stevens. This situation may have been avoided with Okoro in the game.
In addition, this should have been a three-point lead for the Cavs. Ricky Rubio had the chance to hit two free throws in the offensive possession prior. Instead, Rubio only hit one of two which left one key point off the scoreboard. On the night, the Cavs were mediocre from the free-throw line at 71.4% (15/21). The missed free throws came back to bite Cleveland when everything was said and done.
Even with the mistakes during the late-game situation, the Wine and Gold got a great look for Garland in the closing second. Garland got a wide-open look from three at the top of the key, and this was a game where he shot well at 50%. More times than not, Garland will hit open threes this season. The Cavaliers’ loss to the Wizards stings due to mistakes and unfortunate breaks; however, they still had a good shot to win and barely came up short. The Cavs can bounce back against the 2-8 Detroit Pistons on Friday.
Previewing Friday’s Matchup: Cavaliers vs. Pistons
Cleveland has their easiest game of the season up to this point by far on Friday night. The Pistons have struggled this year with only two wins. Their first overall pick, Cade Cunningham, has been off to an inefficient, rough start to his career. Cunningham had his best game by miles Wednesday evening against the Rockets with 20 points, shooting 4/8 from three.
Jerami Grant will be another player to watch for after he averaged over 22 points last season and is contributing 18+ points per game this season. In addition, Grant’s playmaking ability was on show vs. the Rockets with an explosion of 35 points. The knockdown second-year shooter Saddiq Bey has struggled from three this season shooting only 27.9% (he was 38% in his rookie season). Bey is still averaging double-digit points and will be another scoring threat to keep tabs on.
Overall, the Cavaliers should have a major advantage inside with the likes of Allen and Mobley. Detroit primarily plays Isaiah Stewart, the second-year big man from Washington, at center with Grant at power forward. Stewart has some strength to him but is only 6-foot-8. Meanwhile, Grant is a thin 6-foot-8 at 210 pounds. The 6-foot-11 Kelly Olynk also adds solid totals off the bench: 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 45.9% from the field and 35.1% from three.
Cleveland has a major advantage inside and should be able to play bully ball. The length and size of the Cavs’ lineup should bother the smaller Pistons. Lauri Markkanen and Kevin Love will likely be absent yet again due to the NBA’s health and safety protocol. Still, the Cavaliers should rule the paint Friday night.
Catch the Cavs vs. Pistons matchup Friday at 7:30 PM EST.
Featured image courtesy of Tony Dejak/AP Photo
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