In basketball, you’re either a winner or you’re a loser. There is no middle ground.
The inviting glow of the winners’ locker room (which I had the pleasure of stepping into after yesterday’s 109-94 win over the Toronto Raptors) effectuates a merry media ceremony. Members of the press toast their champions with microphones, audio recorders, and Flip cams. The players imbibe in the festivities, reciprocating praise with sound bites and smiles.
The locker room across the arena is just like this, but flipped entirely on its axis. The frigid, polar opposite.
Post-game thoughts often roll off the tongue in the heat of the moment, with little thought. And there are always two sides to every story. Let’s read between the lines:
[Quotes via Washington Wizards Basketball Communications]
WIZARDS HEAD COACH FLIP SAUNDERS
Strengths in the game:
“You come into the game and we carried over what we did in Chicago in the second half. We played with a great amount of energy. We took a team where their strength was their rebounding ability; one of the top two rebounding teams in the league, and we out-rebounded them. From the beginning, JaVale (McGee) really started that in the first quarter.”
During his post-game presser, Flip said that the Wizards “kicked [The Raptors] butts on the boards.” He’s right and that’s probably the best way to put it. The Raptors are a very good rebounding team and the Wizards are one of the worst. However, as Kyle Weidie pointed out, Toronto started a three-guard lineup of Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems, supported by the “offensively inept Reggie Evans” and “the frail Andrea Bargnani.” This season, Bargnani — their center — has averaged just 4.7 rebounds per game. He had just two rebounds last night and spent most of his time on the perimeter. That lack of effort, coupled with a smaller lineup just isn’t going to get it done.
On the ability to play as a team:
“I love the ability that we had 28 assists and had maybe a little bit too many turnovers; we gambled a little bit. We played a lot of guys. But more than anything else, I liked our aggressiveness; I liked our aggressiveness in pick-and-rolls; I liked the way we really shared the ball as a team and played as a team.”
I think the man to look at here is Hilton Armstrong. He had 10 points on 5-6 shooting. Four of those buckets came on easy dunks created by good ball movement. Oh, and his only missed shot was a fadeaway “J” in garbage time.
WIZARDS GUARD NICK YOUNG
On his play tonight:
“You know my mindset is right. I played the forward at USC, so I’m used to getting rebounds. I kind of lost track of that coming into the league. I’m learning more on how to get rebounds and help the big men out.”
Nick Young recorded a career-high six rebounds. SIX! This was on a night where — with the exception of Kirk Hinrich — every Wizard who played at least 30 minutes reached at least six rebounds. It is his fourth year in the Association. That some people put him on a pedestal for tallying six rebounds is ridiculous, and says more about his one-dimensional game than anything else. At one point in the second quarter, Young’s assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, and turnovers combined equaled the number of passes he had made all game: zero. As TAI’s Rashad Mobley eloquently tweeted: “Nick Young’s game is the equivalent of a never-ending heat check sometimes…”
WIZARDS FORWARD ANDRAY BLATCHE
On playing without John Wall and Yi Jianlian:
“When a guy falls down another one steps up and has to perform. You have to be ready. Tomorrow we are going to come in with the same attitude we had today. We are going to need Nick to come out and do the same thing, and JaVale to do the same thing and definitely Gil, and compete.”
To oversimplify the main difference in Blatche’s contribution:
Against Toronto, Blatche did less floating around the perimeter and took it to the hoop. Hard. Blatche shot more free throws against the Raptors than he had in the previous two games combined. (The same goes for the Wizards as a team.)
After the game, I caught up with Andray and asked what brought about this change. ”I just wanted to be aggressive with [Bargnani],” Blatche said. “I see watching tape that people don’t give him much special respect, respect his game enough. … When you study [players] more, you be more aggressive with them. That’s all I did.” Keep watching game film, Andray.
WIZARDS GUARD GILBERT ARENAS
On how it feels to start instead of coming off the bench:
“You know it’s been almost four years since I have really played the game of basketball. Just going out there and playing means a lot to me. Starting or coming off the bench you just have to give it your all. I know while I was out there as a starter I had to give a good spark, the same as when I come off the bench.”
The difference last night was that Gilbert shot the ball well throughout the entire game. He shot 50% from both the field and from the three-point line.
On his play in the third quarter:
“Kirk was pushing the ball getting easy layups, so he had the defense sinking in and he found me. He found me trailing and by that time it was too late.”
The funny thing about Kirk getting easy layups is that it rarely ever happens. If Hinrich is getting into the paint and finishing layups with both hands, it is sure to be a long night for the defense.
RAPTORS HEAD COACH JAY TRIANO
On the key to the game:
“When we were at shoot around today you guys asked me what the key to the game was. Stop Arenas, Blatche and Nick Young . Take a look at their numbers, 22 [points for Blatche], 20 [points for Arenas], and 20 [points for Young]. Obviously we didn’t do that. It’s not like we didn’t relay that same message to our players this morning. We came out a little bit flat and let those guys get a little bit of momentum going and then when we tried to pick up the intensity they’ve already got a good feeling and juice in the game.”
Hibachi is looking more and more like his old self. Snack Attack finally played like a power forward. And Nick Young was, well, Nick Young. It’s hard to win when you let a team shoot 56.3% from the field.
On JaVale McGee:
“You don’t get lay-ups against this team. McGee is inside, blocking shots and he doesn’t give you anything free to the rim.”
McGee is inside, blocking shots and he doesn’t give you anything free at the rim.
With our inconsistent help defense and poor rotations, you can typically get into the paint just fine. But like Triano said, McGee plays for the highlight block every time, regardless of the circumstance.
RAPTORS GUARD JARRETT JACK
On the game:
“They had the energy in their home building which is normally the thing that usually happens. We were close in the second half, but in the third quarter it got away from us.”
Note: The loudest the Verizon Center got last night was when G-Wiz and Friends charged the floor during the Chipotle-sponsored Burrito Dash. Deadly.
RAPTORS FORWARD REGGIE EVANS
On the game:
“We just didn’t play with pride, passion, dedication, nothing like that. It was more just going through the motions, stuff like that. Washington did well, but I feel if we would have got our intensity up we could have done well tonight.”
That’s a recipe for disaster, but a recurring storyline in the NBA.