[Editor's Note: Beckley Mason provided Verizon Center coverage of Saturday night's 98-95 Wizards win over the Toronto Raptors for TAI. You can usually find Beckley at the TrueHoop Network general NBA blog, HoopSpeak.com. You can also find him on Twitter: @BeckleyMason. -Kyle W.]
“Yi has a great set of skills. When he dunked it tonight I was like ‘OK China.’” -Andray Blatche
On a night when the entire NBA was dwarfed by the NFL playoffs, the Wizards’ nondescript three point win over the Raptors was overshadowed by Chipotle’s burrito giveaway extravaganza.
That’s too bad, because although the atmosphere suffered from flu-like symptoms, the Wizards front line did some things that should hearten the Washington faithful.
To begin, Andray Blatche took a charge. A really good one, too, in which he slid from his help position near the free throw line all the way to the block to absorb the blow from the driving DeMar DeRozan. On a number of pick and rolls, Blatche and McGee even worked in concert to hedge on the ball handler then rotate to the rolling big man.
I talked to Andray before and after the game, so I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a body double out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the man wearing the number seven jersey was in fact his Doppleganger. Dray missed a number of shots in close where he usually demonstrates world-class touch on the way to a 6-18 night, but was an active rebounder and defender all game, corralling 13 total boards. So basically he struggled with his strengths and excelled in areas of weakness.
The Bizarro theme permeated into the rest of the team, too, inspiring a coast-to-coast one-on-two double-fisted jam from Yi. As ‘Dray so elegantly put it afterward “Yi has a great set of skills. When he dunked it tonight I was like ‘OK China.’”
And get this, Nick Young opened the game 0-6… but managed three perfectly lovely early assists. Luckily for the Wizards, he went on to replicate his incendiary performance against the Kings from earlier this the week, going 10-13 over the final three quarters for 29 big points. Young masterfully walked the line between aggressiveness and forcing; scoring at the rim, from three, and on a couple very smooth twelve foot fallaways. It was a mature performance from a player threatening to become a star.
The Wizards needed these somewhat unlikely performances, because John Wall continued the disturbing trend toward the league-wide mean on both ends. Wall appeared hesitant coming off of pick and rolls, as though he was focusing solely on reading the defense instead of forcing the defense to react to him. The best pick and roll practitioners must be able to accurately read the defense while also “influencing the read” by applying pressure to the opposition.
Flip Saunders pointed out that, like most of the league, the Raptors played “about fifteen feet off him, which makes it pretty tough to penetrate in the lane.” As a result Wall seemed satisfied with feeding other teammates (and his teammates made some shots), but the Raptors didn’t give up one lay-up to Wall or his pick and roll partner all game. Perhaps one could stomach that fact against the Celtics, but it’s alarming to see such a weak defensive squad use one look to contain Jimmy.
Hopefully Wall learned from his matchup with Jose Calderon. The Spaniard took the Wizards apart by both patiently and decisively attacking off the pick and roll. This was in part because Calderon has a much more advanced midrange game than Wall, but he also sprinted off of his screens to create valuable space.
Counters Flip, “You know, as a point guard, when your team wins and you get nine assists, you can’t totally say that the guy didn’t do the job.”
True. Wall is further along as a play executor than any rookie point guard since Chris Paul and he showed that tonight. One only hopes his nagging knee injury had more to do with his lack of aggressiveness than a conscious decision to alter his attacking style.
So it’s hard to be overly positive about beating a depleted Raptors team at home by only three. At the end of the game I felt like J. K. Simmons in the closing moments of Burn After Reading, shaking my head and asking “What did we learn?”
It was a win, now let’s torch that performance and move on.
Notes and Non Sequitors:
- The Wizards outrebounded the Raptors 48-39. This was probably the difference in the game and should have made it into the recap.
- Jose Calderon was one rebound shy of a triple double, which for some reason did not inspire him to shoot a fake shot on his own basket to get the necessary board. Still, 21 points, 15 assists, nine rebounds and one turnover is still a decent line, I guess.
- In the Battle of Los Angeles (alums), former USC Trojan Nick Young DeStroyed DeMar DeRozan, who could only muster seven points and no rebounds in 35 minutes of run.
- JaVale McGee accumulated 11 rebounds and six blocks in only 25 minutes of play. Flip decided to go with more perimeter-oriented bigs to match up with Toronto, but when on the court the Wookie was everywhere (as usual, this was good and bad).
- Today’s pregame snack for the Wizards was chicken noodle soup. A few players were eating it out of these tiny styro-foam bowls that probably look normal in a normal person’s hand, but Yi or Rashard looked like they were holding the bottom half of an eggshell. Just thought you should know.