Andray Blatche tied his career-high point total with 36, and set a new career-high rebounding total with 19 as the Washington Wizards held off the Cleveland Cavaliers 115-107 Friday night at the Verizon Center. Playing without John Wall, who was serving a one-game suspension for throwing a punch at Miami Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskas Wednesday night, the Wizards (19-56) became the first team in NBA history to have two rookies record triple-doubles in the same season after Jordan Crawford scored 21 points, dished 11 assists, and grabbed 10 rebounds (recording career-highs in the latter two categories). Wall recorded the other triple-double by a first-year player when he had 19 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds against Houston November 10.
It would be easier to get excited about Crawford’s and Blatche’s achievements if they hadn’t come against a truly execrable Cleveland (15-60) team featuring Baron Davis, perhaps the biggest waste of NBA talent over the last 15 years (True to form, Davis managed 10 points and 11 assists, but went 2-for-8 from beyond the three-point line and 4-for-12 from the field with a plus/minus of -11). But it also won’t do to be too churlish, as Wizards coach Flip Saunders came roaring into the media room after the game full of praise for his team’s effort.
“We had great individual performances,” Saunders said. “Andray was great tonight — 36 points, 19 rebounds, 16 offensive rebounds, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. That’s a lot of offensive rebounds.”
“Ah, man. He was rebounding all his missed shots,” said Othyus Jeffers, who recorded 13 points and played 33 minutes in his first career NBA start. “He was going for a Moses Malone night.” He was joking. We think.
It was Blatche, playing in just his second consecutive game after missing the previous 10 due to injury, who carried the early load for the Wizards, recording 12 points and eight rebounds on 5-for-12 shooting as Washington held a 29-26 lead after the first 12 minutes. Somewhat unexpectedly (for Blatche has long since established a pattern of falling off after fast starts to games), the 6-foot-11 power forward continued his strong play on the offensive end in the second quarter, scoring 10 more points and grabbing four more rebounds in just 7:28 of second quarter playing time. However, Blatche struggled on the defensive end, at one point failing to rotate and pick up J.J. Hickson while the latter was cutting to the basket. The resulting dunk gave Cleveland a 46-42 lead with 4:18 left in the first half and left Saunders gesticulating wildly in anger on the sidelines. Blatche finished the game, for the record, with a plus/minus of +7.
“It feels good to be back and I’m having fun again,” Blatche said. “When I was out I realized you can’t take anything for granted, so I came back with a lot of energy and I’m just happy to be playing again.”
Crawford took command of proceedings in the third quarter as the Wizards went on a 14-0 spurt to turn a 61-54 deficit into a 68-61 lead. Crawford’s signature play of the night came during this run, as he blocked a shot attempt by Davis, picked up the loose ball, spun away from a defender, streaked down the floor, and dropped the ball off between his legs to Blatche for an easy dunk that made the score 61-60, Cleveland.
“I knew the pass was coming,” Blatche said in the locker room after the game. “I just didn’t know how it was going to get there.”
Crawford, who had been a game-time decision with a bad back, finished off the run himself with a three-point play, but he couldn’t claim a flawless night either, as he launched two long off-balance jump shots midway through the fourth quarter as the Wizards were trying to salt the game away. But he atoned for those particularly errors with a long three-pointer from just to the left of the key to give Washington a 107-99 lead with 1:51 remaining and seal the game.
“The most phenomenal thing about Jordan,” said Saunders, “is that he has the ability to have an average first half and then he comes out and he’s lights out in the second half. I’m talking about making big plays tonight and not just scoring, he had some phenomenal passes to JaVale [McGee] at the rim.”
Seven games remain in the Wizards season after Friday night’s win, and though it would sound hollow to say that the team has finally hit upon a winning formula, there is no doubt that the play of Jeffers, Crawford, and Maurice Evans has made the team watchable, if not necessarily better, as the NBA season turns for home.
“It’s been painful at times,” Saunders admitted Friday night. “But our guys have kept a good attitude day after day and have continued to work hard, and we’re starting to see the results.”