Breaking down the break down in Oklahoma City
The Wizards had more than a couple fair chances to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night — and to win their first road game of the season — but they were out-dueled. Better shot selection, better play calling, and an unforgiving execution on mismatches gave the Thunder the edge.
With the score knotted at 110 with just over five seconds left in the first overtime, Nick Young had the ball with a chance to sink the go-ahead bucket. What did our most eligible scorer do? He took two dribbles to his left, gave a shoulder fake, and missed an 18-foot fadeaway jump shot over Russell Westbrook. Not surprising, but especially disappointing considering that the Thunder were in the penalty.
In the second overtime, the Wizards actually found themselves winning 115-112. A very questionable foul call on a Kevin Durant layup sent him to the line, where he tied the game. What hurt the Wizards most on that play was not that Durant made the and-1 play, but that Trevor Booker — who had an unbelievable game, all things considered — fouled out during that sequence.
But that wasn’t a what decided the game — still tied at 115 with just over three minutes left.
On the next Wizards possession, Rashard Lewis found Andray Blatche right underneath the basket, who missed the easy chance. The Wizards, courtesy of an errant Nick Collison pass, were gifted an extra possession and the chance to take the lead. However, John Wall missed a wide open step-back jumper over Westbrook.
That was the moment where things began to fall apart. Here’s what happened next:
Rashard Lewis took his eyes off Durant, letting him run free just beyond the three-point line. Blatche recognized the impending danger and stepped out to put a hand in his face. But let’s be serious. This was Andray Blatche covering Kevin Durant.
What did Flip Saunders dial up? You guessed it! A shooter, in this case Rashard Lewis, coming off a screen. Lewis forced a three-pointer over the long arms of The Durantula and his shot hit more backboard than iron. Another wasted possession.
The Thunder’s response? More Blatche abuse.
Lewis yelled for a switch, which was nice to hear because it meant that the Wizards were actually talking on defense. But again, Blatche should not be tasked with trying to slow last season’s scoring champion. Ever.
Next Wizards possession: same ol’ game plan. A Nick Young isolation on the wing resulted in another Nick Young turnover — you know, the kind of turnover that hits the rim. This is what Saunders decided to go with? Down just five points in the second overtime? On a night where Young shot just 13-33 from the floor? Another forced another off-balance fadeaway? Okay….
Thunder ball. On this series, the prized rookie Wall made a grave mistake. He slept on Westbrook, who had already put up 33 points, allowing him to sneak into the paint for an uncontested layup. This basket extended the Thunder run to 10-0 over the last three minutes of double overtime.
Now, even though the game was virtually over, the Wizards still had a bit of fight left in them. With a little over a minute left. Wall made a nice, slashing move into the lane to cut the Thunder lead to five points. (Can Wall please do this more?). Down the court, Lewis inexplicably forced Blatche to guard Durant AGAIN (!!!!!!), for the third time in the same number of minutes.
Goodnight, Oklahoma City!
The defensive combination of Lewis and Blatche destroyed the Wizards over the last few minutes of the second overtime. While in theory, the switches came at the right place and time, in practice they handed the Thunder a win. Blatche can backpedal in the vicinity of Durant all he wants, but that can hardly be considered defense. Andray had no hope of stopping him. The three Durant shots highlighted above were essentially uncontested, shootaround jumpers.
Would the game have been different if Booker didn’t foul out, or if JaVale McGee, who sat out with the flu, could have suited up or if Rashard Lewis didn’t continually give up on guarding Durant? Possibly, but it hardly mattered. Hypotheticals cannot change last night’s collapse.
Give Durant his due — he certainly deserves plenty of credit — but Scott Brooks outcoached Flip Saunders in crunch time. He exposed the Wizards greatest weaknesses defensively and capitalized on the team’s alarming lack of creativity on offense. When it mattered most, Saunders left this young Wizards squad out to dry. Again.
We have seen this from Saunders before, from opposing teams calling out the Wizards plays during their second half comebacks to questionable rotations. The Wizards are set to take on Memphis Grizzlies in the FedEx Forum tonight at 8 p.m. I’m fully expecting more of the same: outgunned, outworked, and outcoached.