Wizards finally play complete game on the road, defeat woeful Cavaliers
For a moment, I thought about putting on a plastic poncho and borrowing a pair of Kirk Hinrich's goggles for fear of getting soaked with a champagne shower. But after the Wizards finally won their first road game of the season -- and ended a 26-game road losing streak dating back to April 9 of last season -- the locker room floor didn't need any protective covering. It was filled with relief, laughter -- and jokes about needing to have a championship-caliber celebration.
"Where's the champagne?" reserve Hilton Armstrong joked as reporters entered the locker room after the Wizards dismantled the Cleveland Cavaliers, 115-100, at Quicken Loans Arena.
There was none, but the Wizards had a right to be excited about the win, no matter that it came against one the most talent-deficient teams that I've seen, because the slide is over. After 26 games, John Wall can finally say that he knows what it feels like to win away from Verizon Center; Nick Young could enter a pressurized situation and deliver with a string of incredible, heat-check-worthy jumpers; and veterans Josh Howard and Kirk Hinrich could show the Wizards the type of attitude and resolve that's required to win on an opponents' floor.
It was also important for the Wizards to make amends for a despicable performance the night before, when the San Antonio Spurs muddied the couch, raided the refrigerator and flooded the toilets in their house.
"They did whatever they wanted to. It was like a college team playing an elementary team," Wall said about the Spurs. "They got whatever shot they wanted. Like coach said, we had no fight. We had to come out and play hard."
The Wizards (15-38) just have to make sure they don't get too full of themselves. They have three difficult road games ahead against Orlando, Philadelphia and Miami. They won't face the Cavaliers again until the season finale. They don't want to come back on a 14-game road losing streak.
"It was good to get that monkey off our back," JaVale McGee said, "but we got to win on the road still. It's not like we want to win this one and go on another losing streak, but it feels good right now though."
For first time this season, the Wizards came out like a team that was ready to put their road woes behind them, and they also found a way to finish out the game. They shared the ball, compiling a season-high 31 assists. They shot the ball well, making 12 of their first 14 shots and finishing the game shooting 54.3 percent from the floor. They played defense, recording 12 blocked shots -- one short of the season high set on Oct. 30 in Atlanta. And they also controlled the backboards, outrebounding the Cavaliers, 48-43.
"We really played very well," Coach Flip Saunders said. "We came out very focused early and did a lot of things. As I told the guys before the game, if we stayed divided, we're going to crumble. Together, we can be a lot stronger. I thought we shared the ball, a lot of guys carried us at different times, and we didn't play too much out of character."
Young compared the pregame speech to something he heard out of Al Pacino in "Any Given Sunday." He carried the Wizards in the first period, as he scored 16 of his game-high 31 points, taking advantage of a mismatch against the much shorter Daniel Gibson, who was forced to leave with a left quad injury.
Hinrich took control of the team in the second period, as he scored 10 of his 17 points, and added two blocks and one steal, which were very impressive considering how they came about. Hinrich first caught Cavaliers center J.J. Hickson from behind, then he faced him head-on to block another. Later, Hinrich beat Cleveland's 7-foot reserve Ryan Hollins to intercept an alley-oop lob.
"It was like a must win for us. That's the way I felt. That's the way our team felt coming into the game. I was just trying to give it everything that I had," said Hinrich, who added a clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter. "It's something that, as a team you have to be close-knit and stick together to get wins. I think they were excited to get the win. Hopefully don't have to listen to it anymore. Hopefully these young guys gets some confidence getting a road win."
Josh Howard took his turn to take over in the third period, when he scored 10 of his season-high 16 points, proving once again to be an invaluable asset when he's in the starting lineup. The Cavaliers got within 17 points in the third period when Hickson dunked, but Howard responded with a long jumper, then later had a steal and finished a fastbreak by tapping in a lob pass from Wall and making a free throw to put the Wizards back ahead 84-63.
"Throughout the whole game, he kept saying, "Don't let up now,' " Wall said of Howard, who didn't decide to play until the morning shootaround, after Saunders had mentioned the possibility of starting. The Wizards are 4-1 with Howard in the starting lineup, dating back to last season. Howard hadn't started since Feb. 22 of last season.
The Wizards built a 25-point cushion when Young made a long jumper late in the third quarter, and they needed almost every bit when the Cavaliers got hot from beyond the three-point line, making eight in the second half. Jamario Moon hit a three-pointer to bring the Cavaliers within 102-91 with 7 minutes 20 seconds remaining and some doubt started to creep in.
"I said, 'Aw, man. Here we go,' but Flip brought the guys together, and after that, we all started to get in each other's face," Andray Blatche said after scoring 17 points with nine rebounds. "We felt it slipping, we competed until the end."
Blatche was especially pleased that he got the upper hand in his first matchup against Antawn Jamison, whom he used to battle in practice for more than four seasons in Washington. Jamison had 21 points to lead the Cavaliers, hitting his usual three-pointers and long jumpers early in the shot clock, but he walked out the arena, flanked by his kids, and didn't speak with reporters.
"This has been a moment I've been waiting for, definitely to go against him and to get this win," Blatche said. "I've been practice against him for four years, so I pretty much knew the moves he was going to do. When he went to the middle, I kept my hand straight up, because I knew he was going for the foul. I pretty knew what he was going to do before he did it, so it made it easy to guard him."
Wall's contributions certainly can't be overlooked, as he scored 19 points and handed out 14 assists to record his 18th double-double of the season -- and first this month. "I thought John, for his lack of emotion against the Spurs, was very focused and very emotional tonight," Saunders said. "He really put a lot of pressure on them defensively."
Wall's night was not without it's blunders. His teammates won't let him forget about missing a breakaway, left-handed dunk in the second quarter, even though he came back and made his next attempt with two hands.
"Aw, yeah, they got me big time. They said, 'Welcome to the bloopers Top 10,' " Wall said with a laugh. "I made up for it the next play, but it was embarrassing. I could tell when I tired to dunk, it hit the rim, I was like it's off and then I heard the crowd go crazy."
But the Wizards won't have to hear any more jokes about the streak. "At least, now, the guys can watch ESPN again," Saunders said. "They didn't want to watch ESPN because you kept hearing about 0-24 and 0-25. Now, there's nothing for them. More important, not just winning, it's how we won."
Said Young, "We can finally got that road win and we can look on ESPN tonight and see some good things."
| February 13, 2011; 11:38 PM ET
Categories: Andray Blatche, Flip Saunders, John Wall, Josh Howard, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Young
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