Written by: Josh Gutbrod
Image: David Richard, USA TODAY Sports
With just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter Thursday night in Cleveland the Washington Wizards held a 17 point lead and seemed in complete control of the game. The Cavaliers had led by as many as 15 in the first half, with the Wizards storming back to take the commanding 17 point lead. John Wall was shredding a porous Cavs defense while the Wizards launched an offensive onslaught from the wing. Otto Porter Jr. (18 points, 8 rebounds) and All-Star Bradley Beal (19 points, 8 assists) seemingly could not miss.
Enter: LeBron James. The King checked in for center Tristan Thompson at the 7:48 mark in the fourth quarter and would ignite one of the more impressive comebacks in recent memory. Starting with an assist to a cutting Kyle Korver for a lay up with 7:23 on the clock, LeBron would go on to assist on or score 8 of the Cavaliers next 9 baskets (the single basket not attributed to LeBron came on a strong drive by swingman Jeff Green). The pivotal play came with 1:19 remaining as James hit Korver again, this time for a three to tie the game following a converted and-one on the other end by Wizards forward Markieff Morris. James finished the night with 33 points, 9 rebounds, and 14 assists on 12-20 shooting (60%) from the field.
Of course the massive comeback would not have been possible without some “help” from the Wizards. Turnovers, fouls, and missed lay ups by the likes of Mike Scott and Morris allowed the Cavs to overcome the 17 point deficit faster than, well, John Wall. Wall, too, played a fair role in the meltdown. With 28 points and 14 assists, it would be unfair to place the sole blame on the Wizards frontman. Without his performance the Wiz would likely have never overcome the 15 point first half deficit they surged back from themselves.
Yet, in the final two minutes of the game Wall went 1-3 from the field with a foul and a turnover. Unless you count the meaningless three point attempt from Bradley Beal (the Wizards were down 4), Wall dominated the ball in crunch time. The worst of it came on the Wizards final possession. Wall, sizing up Jeff Green, drove left, began to leave his feet, and twisted out of control attempting to make a bail out pass to Morris on the perimeter behind him. He failed to notice Cavs rookie Cedi Osman sitting on the play and Osman was fouled after making the easy steal. Osman would make both free throws to put the Cavaliers up 4 and ice the game.
The outcome could not have been better for Cleveland or worse for Washington. The Wizards, now losers of three straight and 7 of 10, drop into a virtual tie with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th seed in the East. The Cavs notched a 5th consecutive win and have won 9 of 10 and remain a half game ahead of the red-hot 76ers for the 3rd seed in the East. The Cavs and 76ers will face off tonight in Philadelphia with the winner holding the 3 seed. The Wizards will look to get back on track tonight at home against the woeful Atlanta Hawks.