Lackluster Wizards, lackluster Verizon Center … I’m not sure which bred which, but the result was an absolutely ugly opening for the Washington basketball squad. Down 31-17 after a first quarter where the Wizards shot 29.2% and committed seven turnovers (five personal and two shot clock violations), three courtesy of Caron Butler, Flip Saunders’ team found themselves trying to claw their way back into the game. And they eventually did.
With the ball, game tied at 89, and under a minute left, the Wizards offensively followed with: Caron Butler getting his show blocked by Wade, a steal with Stevenson getting fouled while out of control on a fast break, but missing both free-throws, and three missed Gilbert Arenas interior shots … once down 91-89, once down 92-89, and finally down 93-89, which was the final score. On the first occasion Arenas probably got fouled, on the second, one of his charted “shots” was really a lob to Haywood that hit rim not hands, and on the final occasion, Arenas simply missed a layup.
Anyway you slice it, the Wizards finished the final minute of the game in a sloppy manner like a team fractured on offense. But Flip Saunders remembers it differently. “I remember the first minute, falling behind by 19, not coming out with the energy that we have played previously in all the games,” said Saunders. “The basketball gods will get you and you can’t cheat the game in a lot of situations.”
But what did the Wizards do to wrong the basketball gods in the first place?
When Brendan Haywood was asked to explain the early 19-point deficit, he paused for a several seconds in thought and uttered, “I’m not sure … I just …. I’m not sure. Things weren’t working well out early. I think we started pressing a little bit. Dwyane really had it going all game long and the combination of the two put us down 18, 19 points early.”
Arenas wasn’t sure either. When asked about the early goings-ons, Gil responded, “I have no idea. The way we finished the game in Cleveland is, I guess, the way we started the game tonight.”
Wade, who scored an absolutely efficient 40 points on 26 shots (14 made field-goals and 10-13 from the free-throw line), is going to get his. Watching him tonight really reminded me of his greatness as a player. As the game continued, it was evident that the Wizards were playing against Wade and a bunch of other guys. In the final quarter, Wade scored nine points and created eight points for his teammates, touching the ball on 14 out of Miami’s last 15 possessions of the game.*
But back to the beginning. Part of the early struggles seemed to arise with both the Mike Miller-Dwyane Wade and Fabricio Oberto-Michael Beasley matchups. Beasley scored four points in the first five minutes on jumpers when Oberto couldn’t really play him close on the perimeter. However, Beasley didn’t do much after that, telling Rashad Mobley of Hoops Addict, “Just remember I told you before the game, that it’s going to be a good night for me.” He only ended up with 10 points on 5-10 shooting, but it didn’t seem like the Heat went to him much to take advantage of the mismatch.
Wade drew two fouls on Miller in the game’s first 1:50, forcing the Wizards’ starting two guard to sit. And from there, Wade continued on his roll, scoring 11 points by the 5:11 mark. His ease in getting to the hoop likely contributed to Caron Butler losing track of Quentin Richardson on a handful of possessions. The Heat’s game high 19-point lead was built by the 3:30 mark in the first thanks to back-to-back threes by Richardson. Q-Rich netted 10 points on Butler in the first … and yes, this was the same Quentin Richardson who torched the Wizards for 34 points on 7-13 from deep as a Knick last season. The guy can shoot … allowing him to go missing on defense is not recommended.
Between talk of basketball gods and matchups … maybe Dwyane Wade is a basketball god. But more likely, instead of worshiping false idols, the Wizards need to get comfortable with each other fast. Leaders need to lead. And just because one third of the big three is out doesn’t mean the team has to turn into The Artist Formerly Known As Agent Zero and his band of uninspired revolutionaries. Caron Butler needs to be more assertive on offense (more to come on that), and the remaining cast needs to step up as a cohesive unit.
It’s just game five, but a home loss against Miami, who was also coming off a loss the previous night, is one of those soul-searching, look in the mirror defeats. A 3-2 record is something to build upon, but 2-3 poses to question, ‘What is going on and how do we correct it?’
*ESPN Stats and Information