CLEVELAND – From the beginning, the focus that the Wizards had lacked in a recent spate of games since the All-Star break was back. And with 24 first-half points from John Wall, they got ahead early and stayed there as they begin a five-game road trip in style by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.
Wall (37 points, 11 assists) had his 47th double-double and Bradley Beal (27 points, six assists) were better than LeBron James (24 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists) and Kyrie Irving (23 points, four assists) as they finally won a game in the season series.
The Cavs (47-25) took it 2-1, but this victory was about more than just this game. It avenged an epic 140-135 overtime loss in D.C. on Feb. 6 when James banked in a three to force the extra session and Beal scored 41.
It keeps the Wizards (45-28) ahead of the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the East and re-establishes them as a legitimate contender after so-so performances with losses to the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks and Raptors, the latter of whom owns the tiebreaker because they won the season series with Washington 2-1.
The start was fast and furious. Wall made 8 of 8 shots in the first quarter as he got into the paint, was confident in pulling up for jump shots when defenders went under the screen and was too much for Irving to handle.
When the Cavs went to Deron Williams, who has traditionally not fared well in the matchup with Wall, it wasn’t much better.
Jason Smith (10 points) was a spark off the bench as his putback with 1.1 seconds gave them a 71-61 lead at halftime when the lead was reduced to single digits. But it was Kelly Oubre (16 points, seven rebounds) who did the trick in the second half. Markieff Morris (14 points, six rebounds) and Marcin Gortat (10 points, five rebounds) also had their moments.
Oubre continued his streak of inspired play on both ends, having several key putbacks off missed shots late to push the lead to 115-105. Every time the Cavs produced a bucket, the Wizards matched to keep comfortably ahead. Cleveland emptied its bench with two minutes left to concede defeat.
Kevin Love (17 points, seven rebounds) was held in check after posting 39 points and 12 rebounds in the last meeting. Tristan Thompson (nine points) was limited, too. He had 22 and 12 then.
The Cavs led 8-7 in the first quarter but never again. They allowed the Wizards to shoot 49 of 82, or 59.8% from the field, and outrebound them 40-32.
--Wall went at Irving every chance he had. The Wizards cleared out his side of the floor and gave him the space to go 1 vs. 1 and finish or force help. When they did, Wall found open players. Cleveland had no answer. Wall also pushed the ball even when he didn’t have numbers to exploit Cleveland’s uncoordinated transition defense with great success. He combined with Beal to attempt 15 free throws. They made 14 of them.
--The Wizards had gone away from establishing Gortat out of the gate in favor of more motion in the offense. But the first play was called for him as Beal set him a cross screen to get Gortat position. He drop stepped on Thompson and got the layup. The hustle and effort from Gortat and Morris -- both scrambled to the floor for a loose ball and Gortat fed Beal who went end to end for the and-1 -- one-upped Love and Thompson.
--James, who had his right cornea scratched in a win over the Hornets on Friday night, was allowed to wear eyewear for protection. But the league denied him wearing tinted ones which would give him a competitive advantage as defenders wouldn’t be able to read his eyes. James missed a three late in the first quarter. He soon would toss the eyewear to the floor in frustration and go without the rest of the way.
--Bojan Bogdanovic (lower back soreness) was a late scratch from the lineup. Before tipoff, coach Scott Brooks said all of his players were available but about 30 minutes before tipoff he was out. The Cavs didn’t have Iman Shumpert (knee).
--Beal had 41 points in the last meeting, taking advantage of his matchup as Irving marked him a lot early. The Cavs sent multiple bodies at him on the catch and he kept alive his dribble and beat them with the pass and began the game shooting 5-for-10 to complement Wall’s explosion. They gave Wall shots and he made them pay early. Beal had open looks constantly but shot just 2-for-6 on threes.
--Ian Mahinmi took a knee to the left hip/upper thigh from Richard Jefferson and was slow to rise in the first half. He stayed in the game but only played nine minutes and didn’t return. But it wasn’t because of injury, according to the team. They simply wanted to stay small with Morris at the five late and it worked. They forced the Cavs into series turnovers in the final minutes. One put Wall in transition and shoveling a pass to Porter for a dunk. They only forced 12 turnovers but converted them into 21 points. Mahinmi said after the game that he was sore but had a hip pointer.
-- Morris didn’t pick up his first foul until 3:04 was left in the first half to prevent a breakaway. But by 1:03, he had three fouls. One came on a cheap reach-in which is what gets him into foul trouble so often. He was able to stay on the floor when the Wizards went to a small lineup in the fourth and not get into a deeper hole. He didn’t pick up his fourth until 3:37 remained.
--Oubre caused havoc in the fourth quarter. He ran out to challenge Jefferson (10 points) on a three that altered the trajectory to force a miss. He jumped the passing lane to James to cause a turnover and got out in transition for the layup. The Cavs had gotten it down to a two-possession game but it was quickly back at 107-98 with 9:05 left. Oubre then cleaned up missed shots from Wall and Morris for layups to kill their momentum.
--Wall's determination to push the ball produced a 27-4 edge in fast-break points.
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