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For one of the few times this season, it was not defense — or lack of it, specifically — that led to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ demise Thursday night against the Washington Wizards.
The culprit in the loss that snapped Cleveland’s four-game winning streak and brought Washington to within a half-game of the third-place Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference standings was on the offensive end.
After scoring 120 points or more in a franchise-record four consecutive games in compiling the winning streak, the Cavaliers had just 20 assists on 42 midfield goals and were ice-cold from beyond the 3-point arc, making just 8-of-35 attempts (22.9 percent). It marked just the 12th time this season Cleveland did not reach double figures in made 3-pointers.
“I think in the second half (the ball) stopped moving a little bit, but, again, you can’t really trust your offense because we don’t really know it that well yet,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, referring to The New 4 of George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, told reporters after the game. “That’s what kind of hurt us. When they started switching and not having a lot of options to go to offensively, that kind of hurt us.
"It's a learning experience."
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) February 23, 2018
“And when the guys are out there, the new guys, thinking and trying to play, that messes you up, too. Because now when you’re getting shots you’re just thinking so much out there on the floor.
“It’s a learning experience and we gotta keep getting better, keep working on it.”
To their credit, The New 4 wasn’t making excuses after the loss. LeBron James, as usual, led the way for Cleveland, posting 32 pints, nine rebounds and eight assists in 37 minutes.
“We still have to learn the plays,” Hill said. “Coach gave us a small playbook so far but we still got a lot of other plays we need to learn. Just when we’re out there in different situations things may not get to move, the ball is not moving as much as we would like it to. We’re still learning but we’ve got to take it one step at a time.
“We’re perfectionists about trying to play the right way and doing things right and trying to be perfect and sometimes it hinders you to slow down. We’ve just got to let the game come to us, but be aggressive at the same time.”
The loss was unlike most of the defeats Cleveland (34-23) has sustained since Christmas. Even though they came out on the short end of the verdict, it wasn’t because the Cavaliers lacked effort or aggression.
They were simply The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight from 3, as well as from the free-throw line, where they made only 11 of 19 (57.9 percent).
“I thought (LeBron) got into the paint and made the right plays,” Lue said. “We missed some open 3s — I mean, shooting 8-for-35, it’s going to be tough to beat a lot of teams. Him attacking in the fourth quarter, getting downhill, getting to the paint and kicking out for shots was good for us.
“We just didn’t make our shots and we didn’t make free throws, either.”