Jose Calderon played flawless basketball for the first 47 minutes and 17 seconds of Detroit’s game against Washington. He had just six points on 2-of-6 shooting, but he dished out 18 assists–nine in the third quarter when the Pistons went from down nine points to up 12. Up to that point, Calderon had not turned the ball over, and he hadn’t committed any personal fouls. His only focus was on getting good shots for Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe (the duo accounted for 13 of Calderon’s assists).
With 43 seconds left in the game, Trevor Ariza hit a 3-pointer to bring the Wizards within six points of the Pistons, 96-90, and on the next possession, Calderon committed his first turnover of the game via an offensive foul. Coach Lawrence Frank immediately called timeout, and when play resumed, Calderon turned the ball over for a second consecutive time when he lost the ball off the dribble. Ariza grabbed the errant pass and was headed down the court for an easy layup, until Will Bynum committed a clear path foul. Ariza converted the two free throws, and the Wizards pulled to within 95-96 with 12.3 seconds left–with the ball. Here’s what happened next:
Fortunately for Calderon (and unfortunately for Steve Buckhantz), Ariza’s shot was short, and the Pistons won the game, 96-95. The first thing Calderon did after the buzzer was to find John Wall, so that he could relay encouraging words (more on that later). The second order of business was issuing an apology to Coach Frank for committing two turnovers in the final minute of the game. Never mind that Calderon was the reason the Pistons won, and even with those two turnovers, hiss assist-to-turnover ratio was still 9-to-1. He felt he’d let his team down and that an apology was in order. Here was Coach Frank after the game:
John Wall did not apologize for his play after the game, but it might not have been a bad idea. He had four turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game (seven overall), and he didn’t attempt a single free throw. The Wizards also had just 15 fastbreak points; 11 of those were engineered by Wall’s backup A.J. Price, who played 23:58, but amassed nine points, eight assists and just one turnover. Wall played 24:03 and finished with six points, four assists and the aforementioned seven turnovers. As Washington Examiner writer Craig Stouffer noticed, Wall’s body language was bad, his confidence was down, and neither the words of Assistant Coach Don Newman at halftime, nor the constant encouragement of his teammates throughout the game could lift Wall out of his funk. When the game ended, he was headed off the court with his head down until Calderon walked up to him and spoke for about 20-to-30 seconds. What was said?
“(He) said I’m a talented player, (to) just keep playing. And go forward with that.” –John Wall
“I would prefer to keep that between John and I, but basically I told him he’s a great player–one of the best, in fact–and I wanted to wish him success in basketball and tell him that it [success] is not just one thing. It’s shooting, it’s driving the ball, its playing defense, and there are a lot things to being a point guard, and he has all the tools to be one of the best.” –Jose Calderon
Prior to the game, both Randy Wittman and Lawrence Frank made concerted efforts to tell the media they were concerned about the opposing point guards. Wittman was concerned about Calderon’s ability to dribble drive and kick it to open teammates, and Frank was concerned about Wall’s ability to run and find Bradley Beal or Martell Webster for open 3-pointers. During the game, Wall and his teammates did a poor job of communicating and rotating, which meant Calderon had little to no resistance with his entry passes. Over a 40-second stretch in the first quarter, Calderon found Monroe for an easy layup, Knight for a open 3-pointer, and then Knight again for an easy layup.
Coach Frank said after the game that the Pistons’ plan to stop Wall was to limit transition baskets, and to create a wall around him when he did make it into the lane. Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe, Kyle Singler and Calderon all did an excellent job of shading Wall to one side, and then forcing him into making bad basketball decisions. When A.J. Price played extended minutes in the second quarter, he relied less on speed and quickness and more on swinging the ball to the correct teammate. And if the Pistons sagged off of Price, he had the outside shot (Price went 3-for-6 from the 3-point line) to make them pay. Had Coach Wittman benched Wall for the entire third quarter, perhaps the outcome of this game would be much different.
Additional postgame comments from the Pistons about John Wall and his struggles:
“He’s a really fast guy, and he’s usually great, he was just frustrated tonight, so we can’t take all the credit. We just tried to follow the game plan and stop him from getting the ball.”
“He’s great in transition, so we tried to stay in front of him, and in pick-and-rolls, you want to go underneath and force him to shoot jumpshots, instead of him getting in the lane and creating for others … He had, what six, seven turnovers tonight? So we did a good job. But he’s alright man, he’s going to get better … He’ll bounce back.”
“John’s a great player, I don’t think we did anything specifically … there’s nothing that we were doing, we just tried to stick to our principles and keep him out of the paint … I”m pretty sure he’s upset at the loss, we’re all competitors. I talked to him throughout the game, and he was up and down, but John will be fine.”