A tale of two halves, a tale of two players. Choose your own lede to describe how the Washington Wizards bounced the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-91 in a legitimate must-win game , but make sure that the point about the Wizards avoiding destruction finds a prominent spot in your description.
In the first half, every possession pointed to another disappointing meltdown for the Wizards. Bad shots were as abundant as defensive lapses, and the emerging theme of “Same old Wizards” begun to forge a shape out of the unkind iron. The saving grace? The return of Antawn Jamison, who didn’t believe in rust or passed up shot opportunities in the first half. His rebounding and funny-style offensive moves to the basket kept the Cavs defense honest and off-balance, while keeping the Wizards from getting run out of the building.
And with just over four minutes remaining in the third, with a LeBron James nine-point run smirking in their faces, Gilbert Arenas stemmed the tide and gave the Wizards the confidence to take quietly good shots in the raucous moments that mattered most. After a horrendous first half, Arenas finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist and zero turnovers in the final four minutes.
They would prove the decisive statistics in the Wizards three point lead entering the fourth quarter, and the tone-setting play that would open the gates for Earl Boykins and Caron Butler to frustrate the Cavs throughout the last period.
Caution yourself against classifying this win as “season-saving.” Yes, the rotations were better for Flip Saunders, the defensive commitment in the second half was more noticeably solid, and there was fun to be had on the floor even in tense moments. But there are miles to go before the Eastern Conference can be called out for sleeping on the Wizards; specifically within a Wizards west coast road trip with games against Oklahoma City and San Antonio over the next few days. They still have injuries, they still have trust issues, and they still have quite a few problems.
But this game can serve as a memory to the Wizards of what injury-free, focused basketball looks and feels like. Rivals can be vanquished, stats can be compiled and expectations can be met. Before tonight’s game, the Wizards were on the verge of implosion for reasons that they couldn’t fully control. They were headed for self-destruction, but allowed experience and trust to make a big game smaller than their team objective.
It’s hard to say if the Wizards’ playoff hopes can rediscover life, but if nothing else, they’ve convinced us that they at least have the talent and mettle to die another day.