At the 8:30 mark of the first quarter, Bulls center Kurt Thomas attempted a cross-court pass to his teammate Carlos Boozer, but before it could reach its destination, Wizards forward Andray Blatche stepped in the passing lane, stole the ball and headed down the court. He took four confident dribbles, jumped towards the basket and then … well, I’ll let you see for yourself:
From that ill-advised moment until the final buzzer of the Wizards’ 87-80 loss to the Bulls Wednesday night, Blatche played like a man completely out of sync. He shot just 3-for-14 from the floor, grabbed just six rebounds, and even picked up a technical foul out of utter frustration at the start of the fourth quarter, in a close game no less. Despite his abysmal performance, Flip Saunders still played Blatche for nearly 37 minutes–presumably because JaVale McGee and Hilton Armstrong combined for zero points and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes of action.
Saunders had different reasons for keeping Blatche in the game despite his struggles:
“He’s one of our main guys. He’s a young player. Part of development sometimes is getting your butt kicked. You can learn as much sometimes when you play bad as you can when you play good. And I’ve had confidence in him that no matter how bad he’s played, that down the stretch, I feel he’s going to be able to make a couple plays for us. It’s the same way if Kirk [Hinrich] makes some mistakes, or Nick [Young], if you have confidence in your players that they’re going to make the play, that they’re going to forget about what they did as far as beforehand.”
Saunders was also asked if Blatche’s layup gaffe had anything to do with the overall malaise he seemed to be in all night:
“I mean, I hope not. I hope as a professional, you don’t miss a layup two minutes into the game and you’re done for the next 46. But he struggled tonight, no question.”
But the strongest indictment of the Blatche’s play on this night did not come from any writer, blogger or coach, but from the other locker room. As Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau finished his postgame comments and the media filtered into the visiting quarters, there was a conversation between two Bulls players about the play of Blatche. One player observed that he played with “no feeling” during the game, and the other player said, matter-of-fact, that Blatche has always played that way throughout his career.
One player involved in that conversation left the locker room before I could follow up with him, the other declined to elaborate any further on the record. Still, their feelings about Blatche’s lack of effort in defeat were crystal clear.
One Bull who did agree to speak about Blatche was Kurt Thomas:
“Both he and McGee were getting frustrated with me and our defense overall, but that just means we were doing our job. Blatche is talented and the Wizards rely on him for most of their low post points, so me and my teammates were determined to be physical, make him work hard and just make life difficult for him, and tonight it worked. I’m sure that missed shot in the first was in his head a bit too, but hey that’s basketball, the good players put it out of their head and bounce back.”
So what did Blatche have to say about his play? Kyle Weidie was there for his post-game comments: