At every buzzer, there are key points you can look back on when considering the outcome — a game-changing instance, a slept-on moment, an initial reaction to the final score. Sure, in a contest of ebbs and flows, moments can be subjective, but it doesn’t make it any one less important than others. In a Wizards 108-104 loss against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, these were some of those moments…
[Sam Cassell to John Wall, pregame encouragement.]
“He’s maturing. Things are, you can just tell, in disarray, not with the organization, but the players on the court … He’s fighting through it. Eventually he’s going to get some players around him and show exactly how good he is.”
-Ty Lawson on John Wall
“Yeah I talked to him about that, because I’ve been in that situation before, I got booed at home [in Golden State] a couple times, I was just trying to tell him to kind of use it as fuel and just try to take it the other way, and shut them up–almost like playing on the road. I hate to see guys like that because like I said, I’ve been there before.”
-Al Harrington on Andray Blatche
When I played basketball with my dad one-on-one in the backyard and lost, it was never the losing that annoyed me most. And it definitely wasn’t the physical beating I’d take from him, because I felt like that made me tougher. What angered me the most was that my father would give me advice on how I could improve, and how I could ultimately defeat him one day. So you beat the pants off of me, and then you turn into a teacher and give me life lessons dad, really? REALLY?
That is exactly what the Denver Nuggets did the Washington Wizards in D.C. on Friday night. John Wall would lead a fast break which would lead to a Wizards basket, and then Ty Lawson would streak down and get the Nuggets a basket as well. Both the Nuggets and Wizards would shoot an air ball, but the Nuggets would parlay that into a put-back, while the Wizards would lose the ball and fall prey to yet another Nuggets fast break. Nick Young had a dazzling first quarter, boosting the Wizards to a 10 point lead after the period, but the Nuggets bench methodically got them back in the game, and the Wizards weren’t able to catch fire. It turned into a game of: You reach, I teach. You think you’re good? Well guess what, we’re better.
After the win, Ty Lawson (21 points, six assists and nine rebounds) and Al Harrington (29 points, including 5-of-8 from three-point land) were not only able to articulate why they were successful against the Wizards, but they accurately diagnosed what was wrong with the team in Washington, and how Wall and Blatche could cope with the dysfunction. If Oklahoma City Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry can see it, and Lawson and Harrington can see it too, why can’t Ted Leonsis?
If you’re down two points and the other team is taking the ball side-out on their end with about seven seconds left in the game, do you foul? Yea, yea, the answer is obvious to you. To the Wizards? Not so much. Well, the answer might be obvious to them too, but on Friday night, their attempt to execute came with all the wrong answers.
The Scene: Danilo Gallinari is taking the ball out of bounds, Chris Singleton is on him. Trevor Booker is matched up against Al Harrington at the top of the key, Jordan Crawford is guarding Aaron Afflalo at the top of the NBA three-point line, John Wall is next to Ty Lawson deep in the paint, and Rashard Lewis is checking Andray Miller on the far side of the lane, near the elbow. Down 106-104, a steal by the Wizards would be gravy, but more importantly, better get that foul. Let’s go to the video…
Disaster. But why?
Crawford makes mistake one: he tries to read the play. It appears that his man, Afflalo, is going to set a second down screen (after Al Harrington) for Ty Lawson, so the point guard can cut to the top to receive the ball. So Crawford jumps the passing lane as Afflalo slips the screen and goes to the left wing.
What happens next is somewhat of a mystery. It’s assumed that Booker, perhaps in thinking that Wall was caught up on a screen from Harrington, goes to switch off on Lawson. It makes sense. If your goal is to foul, you probably want to switch everything. It doesn’t seem to make sense to Wall, however, who keeps chasing after Lawson, almost with aimless movement. Oh, and don’t sleep on the fake of Gallinari, got ‘em all.
So with the sight of three Wizards chasing after Ty Lawson, allowing Al Harrington, who’d gone 5-8 from three-point land on the night (29 points in 30 minutes off the bench), to get the easy dunk, the paddle slipped out of the home team’s hands as the river flowed. The culprits: young John Wall and young Jordan Crawford. These are the little things.
Andray Blatche has to be the most disliked athlete by his local fan base in all of professional sports. Boos hum off the lips of fans during Blatche’s shot releases. If it goes in, mild cheers; if it misses, which has been quite often, it becomes much worse. Some of the criticism is unfair. Blatche is playing through shoulder problems and has rebounded quite well recently (22 total boards in the two games before Denver), but his dismal play on Friday night emboldens his numerous detractors.
In the first quarter, Blatche shot an unnecessary short fade-away to the utter dismay of the Verizon Center crowd, it went down hill from there. He later had a clear path to the hoop, but shuffled his feet for a travel. The second half began with more Blatche turnovers on isolations. The groans became relentless, undoubtedly playing into his psyche. This was evident where he passed up a drive, instead kicking it back out. On the next possession, he chucked up a long miss.
Blatche checked back in at the five minute mark of the fourth and grabbed a key offensive board. That was quickly overlooked by Wizards faithful when he was questionably whistled for a moving screen, a fifth foul that benched him for remainder of the contest. Blatche finished the game with two points on 0-7 shooting, three turnovers, five fouls, and six rebounds in 26 minutes.
Blatche has brought much of the broad contempt upon himself, especially with his media day comments about being willing to die for the team, yet, showing up out of shape (again) and publicly demanding the ball in the post after the first game, only to keep relying on his erratic jumper. The relationship between Blatche and Washington fans has become so untenable that he has no margin of error as a basketball player. The toxic reaction, while arguably justified, and perhaps therapeutic for a tortured fan base, shows little signs of turning around.
As the losses are likely to pile up, Blatche will continue to be audibly scapegoated for all of the franchise’s ills. Flip Saunders questioned the logic of Wizards fans’ icy behavior toward Blatche:
“Booing is not going to help someone play better…..I don’t think by booing, all of a sudden he is going to go out and get 20 points and 15 rebounds because we are booing him. If that was the case, then everyone would be doing it.”
Denver Forward Al Harrington, as quoted above, spoke with Blatche and recommended he turn the boos into fuel.
Neither Blatche nor JaVale McGee made themselves available to speak with the media after the game.