Cavs fans, meet Delonte West: our new “corner” 3-point assassin who has, for one game at least, taken the role of the departed Donyell Marshall.
Marshall, now forever remembered by Cavs fans for missing the spot-up three against the Pistons in the playoffs last year, was part of the trade for West in February.
Marshall was notorious for nailing three after three from either corner. I’m not even joking when I say he made 60-65 percent of his three-point attempts from the corner for the Cavs.
But he missed a critical one and now resides in basketball purgatory, somewhere between Seattle, Oklahoma, and the end of the bench.
In Game 4 against the Wizards, West claimed the "Corner 3-Point Assassin" title from Marshall, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
He finished with 21 points, hitting 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, including 3-of-4 from the corners, all in the fourth quarter.
West's final basket, with just 5.4 seconds showing on the clock, lifted the Cavs to a 3-1 series lead and the chance to close out the Wizards for a third consecutive year.
Through the first three quarters, West and Daniel Gibson struggled. Yes, they hit some shots, but there were many bad turnovers. The two combined for six in the game. West could not dribble around Gilbert Arenas, who kept poking the ball away from him.
Thankfully, come crunch time, the young guards stepped up. Gibson nailed a pair of big threes in the fourth, both pushing the Cavs from perilous three-point leads to six. Someone needed to complement LeBron, and those two did the job.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – in order for the Cavs to win, it only takes one or two other guys who can take some pressure off of LeBron. When someone makes shots – particularly threes – the Cavs are a tough team to beat.
Looking at the numbers, it's surprising that the game was that close. The Cavs hit 13 three-pointers, shot 33 free throws, were plus-20 on the glass (including 18 to six on the offensive boards) yet still needed a last second shot to win.
Give credit to the Wizards for not folding, and they had help from the Cavs and their 18 turnovers.
A few other thoughts…
1. Thanks to ABC’s cameras and microphones, we saw Mike Brown intoning to his team: Close out quarters strong. The best teams finish out each quarter strong.
Now, most of the Cavs players seemed more focused on the Jumbotron or staring at their shoes when Brown was saying all this between the first and second quarters, but the message must have somehow stuck.
After being outscored 12-4 to close the first, the Cavs responded with a 23-5 surge to close out the half.
That momentum carried over into the third as the Cavs, taking advantage of the Wizards missing 19-of-21 shots at one point, led by as many as 15.
Even when the Wizards looked like they were going to come all the way back at the end, Cleveland scored the final five points of the third to regain a seven-point cushion.
Couple that with the end of the fourth, and the Cavs proved to be the dominant team to close out the second, third and fourth quarters. Not a surprise, then, that they won the game.
2. Why do lesser players antagonize stars? I saw it last night with Al Horford and Paul Pierce, and now I’m thoroughly convinced that Pierce is going to score 45-50 points in Game 4.
The Wizards were handling the Cavs pretty easily at the start of the second quarter until Soulja Boy smacked Jay-Z across the head.
LeBron, fired up after that flagrant foul, scored 10 of the Cavs’ next 13 points and went into his “I’m going to do whatever I want and you can’t stop me” mode.
God, do I love watching him when he gets riled. I hope Soulja Boy or Brendon Haywood does or says something stupid to him at the start of Game 5 and LeBron records the first 50-point, 19-rebound, 12-assist game in NBA playoff history.
3. Every time Anderson Varajao or Ben Wallace dribbles, I get frightened.
Varejao was nothing short of miserable today. He missed two point-blank looks and had two turnovers in 13 minutes of play.
He needs to understand that he’s the seventh or eighth offensive option (out of the five players on the floor). He has absolutely no business trying to create his own shot. None.
Wallace was great today, though. I noticed his intensity off the opening tip, when he violently snatched the loose ball from a Wizards player.
Twelve rebounds, two blocks, two steals: that’s all we need out of Wallace. The question is, can he do it on a consistent basis at his age anymore?
4. Wally Szczerbiak seemed primed to have a big game, but foul trouble limited him to just 16 minutes. He missed an open three early, but I liked his aggressiveness on the offensive end.
5. The Cavs got 30 points from their bench, largely behind Gibson’s three-pointers and nine combined free throws from Joe Smith and Devin Brown. The bench players also grabbed 17 rebounds, compared to five from the Wizards bench.
6. The Cavs attempted 28 three-pointers, which is a lot for them. However, most of the attempts (read: the ones LeBron didn’t take) were the result of good ball rotation and finding open guys.
I’m OK with that, especially when it’s Gibson and a red-hot West shooting the majority of them.
LeBron made 3-of-8 and it seemed like he was really settling for jump shots. But he also shot 14 free throws, so he was attacking the basket too, much more so than in Game 3.
7. 34-12-7. I love him.