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The first game of this series came down to this: The Cleveland Cavaliers knew who their best player was.They knew how and where to get him the ball at the end of the game and he knew what to do with it when he got it. On three consecutive crucial possessions, Cleveland got the ball to LeBron James and he attacked the basket like a freight train, scoring six points and putting the Cavaliers ahead for good.
On the first of the three, LeBron just made a hard cut to the block for a pass and got fouled, as Washington was setting its defense. James sunk the two from the line. On the next two possessions, Cleveland ran a misdirection ball screen to the right side, then a diagonal downscreen away into the left corner for James -- so that he could catch the ball on the run and turn the corner into the lane with a full head of steam.
The Washington Wizards, on the other hand, did not know who, how, where or what to do on their own crucial offensive possessions -- the fear that comes with trying to integrate Gilbert Arenas back into their offensive scheme, and a monumental problem for Washington going into Game 2 as every game in this series will come down to these end-of-game possessions.
In the last three minutes, they ran two-man games for Arenas and Antawn Jamison, and isolations for Arenas and Caron Butler, and even a post up for Gilbert. But they could not execute or finish any of those plays. They settled for 3s when they could have attacked the basket.
On two key possessions in the last three minutes, Butler fell down with nowhere to go and Arenas drove into a crowd and lost the ball.
Jamison will be sick when he looks at the film -- seeing a clear path to the basket with slow-footed Anderson Varejao flying at him and watching himself hoist consecutive 3s with a two-point lead.
The Wizards' staff will try to do a better job of creating space for Butler or Arenas in last-minute situations. Stalling their passing and cutting offense to run isolation plays is exactly what Cleveland wants them to do. It allowed the Cavs to stand and wait to help -- clogging things up with their size. Look for the Wizards to run sets that put the Cleveland defenders in motion.
Washington started the game with great ball movement and got great shots -- cutting, passing and getting Brendan Haywood moving through the lane attacking the rim. This action gave Cleveland's big front line trouble, and Haywood got easy scores at the basket.
The Wizards were also able to push the pace and get out on the break. Look for more of the same in Game 2 -- especially as Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas were slow transitioning from offense to defense in Game 1.
As for the Cavaliers on offense, they went in a different direction when they were struggling. After taking quick jump shots and bad shots, they went inside to Ilgauskas, who was able to score over Haywood consistently in the second half. As Washington tried to speed up the pace, the Cavs walked it up and pounded it inside. We should see much more of that from Cleveland in Game 2.
Defensively, the Wizards were physical, fouled hard early and were extremely aggressive. They ran two defenders at James early and often, and LeBron was content to allow his teammates to carry some of the load in the first half. They also showed some three-quarters court pressure and some zone. Look for more changing defenses in Game 2.
However, as he has done since his high school days, James found ways to assert himself at the appropriate moments, and Washington did a poor job of running at him in the last minutes of the game. They must get to him before he starts his move and force him to give up the ball; help at the rim is coming too late.
If the Wizards let LeBron get to the rim, he will win four games by himself. In Game 1, they let him be the star that he is. In Game 2, they may double him throughout the game, especially in crunch time, leaving Wally Szczerbiak, Daniel Gibson and Delonte West to take the open shots, which they did with mixed success in Game 1.
Defensively, the Cavs ran double-teams at Butler, completely disrupting his offensive game, and he was never able to get into much of a rhythm. This forced Arenas to take on more of an offensive role. While the Cavs did nothing to disrupt his rhythm in the first half, they got better guarding Arenas as the game went on. He shot faked West into fouls twice, but on a crucial possession in the fourth quarter, Arenas tried to post up and shot fake him a third time. This time West stayed down on the fake -- he should stay down the rest of the series -- and Arenas was forced to pass the ball back out. The Wizards did not score on that possession.
The Wizards will execute better down the stretch with the coaching staff making Butler the primary option and giving him room to work.PREDICTION: Wizards win Game 2
Mike Moreau is the Director of Basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves an NBA Analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.