For the most part, the Wizards got what they wanted from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite the offensive outburst from LeBron James, the ball stopped moving as he settled into isolation play that eventually proved counterproductive.
The Wizards were able to tie the score at 95 early in the fourth quarter, but that's when Kyrie Irving took advantage of the constant switching on pick-and-rolls on the perimeter to score 19 of his season-high 32 points in the fourth quarter of a 121-115 victory. Although his counterpart John Wall had a double-double of 20 points and 12 assists, those totals were deceptive. Eight of those points came in the final minute with the outcome decided.
"Too much Kyrie," said Garrett Temple, the Wizards' best one-on-one defender. "He was hitting some tough, tough shots."
Irving, who Wall has questioned being ahead of him in All-Star voting among fans despite playing only seven games, had the final word. Irving had been recovering from offseason knee surgery while Wall lit up the league in December by averaging better than 22 points and 11 assists to earn Player of the Month for the Eastern Conference.
"There's no beef or anything that's going on," said Irving, who shot 14 of 22, including 9 of 12 in the second half, and didn't play Dec. 1 when Wall scored a season-high 35 points. "The validation between me and him as players is what it is, and if that's dictated between the fans and the votes then that's what it is. I mean, All-Star voting has been that way for a few years now. It has nothing to do with the respect that we have for one another. He's a great player in this league and he's going to continue to be a great player for years to come."
Wall started in the All-Star Game last year over Irving, but he didn't make third-team All-NBA while Irving did.
The fact is they play the same position but are completely different players. Wall is a distributor who makes role players like Temple (21 points) and Gary Neal (13 points) better en route to his 19th game with double-digit assists. Irving only had three assists. When the shots are falling, Irving's style can be a hindrance while Wall isn't reliant on shooting to be effective. That wasn't the case here.
"He did a great job getting into the paint," Wall said. "They knew we were switching pick-and-rolls and stuff like that with every guard we had so whoever they wanted to attack in the pick-and-roll, they ran ran pick-and-rolls, we switch it and was able to get shots, get into the rhythm and get baskets also."
With the score tied at 95, Irving went on a personal 10-0 run: He beat Temple on the drive, got around Jared Dudley for an All-Star Game-like, acrobatic finish at the rim, drained a jump shot, made 2 of 3 free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt and then made a difficult finish over Nene in the paint.
"That was nuts. He's by far one of the best one-on-one players in our game," Cavs teammate J.R. Smith, who had 25 points, said. "To do what he's done and (be out) months and still be able to come out there and shake and bake like he's doing is remarkable. I don't think there is any question who the real All-Star is."