D.C. Council Game 2: Wizards 102 vs 76ers 109: Lazy Defense and Over-Confidence Rule the Night
Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council: setting the scene, recapping key points, providing the analysis, evaluating players, and catching anything that you may have missed from the Washington Wizards. Game No. 2: Wizards vs. Sixers; contributors: Kyle Weidie and Rashad Mobley from the Verizon Center, with Conor Dirks from in front of his television screens.
Washington Wizards 102 vs Philadelphia 76ers 109
I have to admit that I expected a different narrative to emerge. When Wall knocked down his first 3-pointer of the game, and then proceeded to shame the Sixers defense from all over the floor in the first quarter (including 10 points in 55 seconds), the “key” stretch of the game could have easily been the confidence those buckets gave Wall and his teammates. Instead, the only tone-setting 3-pointers that I can still taste are the three luxuriously attempted, and easily made, long balls by Spencer Hawes. Why?
Back spasms may have slowed down John Wall, but those watching are put in an all too familiar position… Excuse a 17-3 run by the Sixers (the real key of the game) in the fourth quarter because John Wall was spasmodic, because Nene couldn’t play, because it’s only Gortat’s second game, because the Wizards just don’t have it yet. Spinal columns cracked early in the third quarter, but backs were truly broken during that Sixers run, as Philadelphia’s unheralded youngster Tony Wroten, rookie Michael Carter-Williams, and oft-dismissed Evan Turner teamed up with the rarely unimpressive Thaddeus Young to trade off between open 3-pointers and easy, frivolously contested layups. Oh, did I mention that Spencer Hawes hit three 3-pointers? It’s something that he does, and yet the Wizards looked shocked when he put up each of his six attempts. To quote Scar from the Disney movie about lion sex: “Be prepared.”
It’s not time for panicked calls for heads to roll after two games, but if the Wizards are going to make the playoffs this season with dignity, they’ll want to become something close to automatic against teams of Philly’s caliber.
—Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
As maddening as John Wall’s second-half performance was Friday night, that does not at all diminish his first half greatness—especially given what was as stake. It was the home opener and his first game in Detroit was solid, but marred by poor shooting, a lack of consistent aggressiveness, and poor defense. And to make matters worse, the rookie point guard he was facing in game 2 (Mr. Michael Carter Williams), just happened to be younger, taller, and was coming off a legendary performance (22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals) in leading the Sixers to victory over the Miami Heat.
All John Wall did against Philadelphia was score 15 points (on 6-for-6 shooting) in the first quarter, including 10 straight at one point. He gambled and won on defense, he successfully pulled off not one, but two heat checks, and he did exactly what you’d expect your franchise player to do: he aggressively set the tone on offense and he put the team on his back. After one half, Wall had 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, and the Wizards led 54-44. Washington could have used some of that aggressiveness in the second stanza—and perhaps back spasms and fatigue prevented this—but the Wizards would not have been in the game without Wall’s dominant first half.
—Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
It would be easy to insert Bradley Beal’s name into this slot, given that he shot 4-for-18 and seemed to lack any semblance of confidence. But Beal will single-handedly win some games for the Wizards this year, and he’s clearly in some sort of a shooting/confidence slump. The true LVP tonight was the Wizards’ defense that allowed the Sixers to score 74 out of their 109 points in the paint (68 percent). In the first half, it was easy to overlook the matador defense, because the Wizards were up 10, but that was fool’s gold. The sad part is that it wasn’t just the Sixers big men scoring in the paint. Thaddeus Young scored 27 of his 29 points in the lane, as did Evan Turner on 19 of his 23 points.
Wall played free safety on defense instead of close, on-the-ball defense. Beal was mentally not in the game on either end of the floor, and the frontline of Booker, Ariza and Gortat—known for hustle, quick hands and muscle—simply could not keep the Sixers from easy baskets. After the game, even Sixers coach Brett Brown observed that the points in the paint were his team’s saving grace:
“You can talk about pace, but the next word counts for something too: in-paint. We want to attack, attack and we want to get to the rim. It’s not all about just firing up 3s, because if you look at our 3-point percentage, you’d say ‘oh they’re 6-for-23, 26 percent, and we only shot 14 free throws and we only made seven of them. Well, how do you win a game like that? It’s a collective effort.
Coach Wittman’s assessment was much more blunt:
“Commitment to playing fucking defense, that’s what it boils down to.”
This putrid paint defense showed up in Detroit with Nene and Gortat, and again tonight with no Nene and lots of Gortat, Seraphin and Booker. Who knew Okafor was the real MVP of this team?
—Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
Trevor Ariza leads the Wizards in rebounding. Ariza has 24 rebounds over two games (including 14 against the Sixers), eight more than Marcin Gortat, the next most productive glass-grabber. Forget about the fact that remaining back to secure rebounds keeps Ariza off of the wings and disrupts the quick offense that the Wizards have been successful exploiting with Wall, forget about the fact that Ariza’s prolificacy on the boards exposes Washington’s true “bigs” outside of Gortat as hyelophobes … the Wizards currently need Trevor Ariza. But they would also be better off if he played ten fewer minutes per game.
Ariza’s fourteen rebounds and six assists get him the nod here. But he was more or less awful elsewhere. Ariza shot 1-for-7 from the 3-point line in his 39 minutes (the most minutes of any Washington player), didn’t get back on defense at times, and was somehow no worse than anyone not named John Wall. There is simultaneously reason to appreciate Mr. Arizona’s performance, and reason to hope Randy Wittman revisits his incredibly puzzling stance regarding Ariza’s status as a starter.
While Ariza tries to incorporate himself into the starting group, Martell Webster is alienated from the squad that revived his career and made him part of one of the best lineups in the NBA last season, trying to get open looks with a second unit incapable of pulling defenders off of him. Ariza, the player who is arguably less dependent than Webster on shot creators elsewhere in the lineup, does get the benefit of open looks created by Wall, but simply doesn’t have the ability to take advantage of it like Webster does, and doesn’t intimidate defenses in the same cold, efficient manner that a knockdown 3-point shooter can. He won’t always be as bad as he was tonight from long distance, but he also won’t be as good as he was on Wednesday. The reward in experimenting with the lineups doesn’t outweigh the known value … how could it? Wall, Beal, and Webster managed to put a Wizards lineup on a sub-.500 team near the top of the Association-wide lineup rankings.
One last thought in this increasingly rant-riddled set of paragraphs: while Martell Webster was gracious enough to not contest that Ariza had “earned” his starting spot, somehow, during training camp, it’s important to remember that Webster took the starter’s job from Ariza during the regular season last year, also known as the time when basketball teams play against other basketball teams in games that matter. Like these. So, will the Wizards stop tinkering/breaking fixed things/effing around?
—Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
That session was … Embarrassing.
With a capital E… Most get that it will take time for this year’s Wizards team to gel, even if most of the players from last season have returned. Randy Wittman will say that the offense isn’t the problem. And with 204 points scored through two games, that’s perhaps an out-of-the-box statement. But to note: the Wizards scored 102 points or more in 23 percent of their games last season; Washington’s record in those games: 16-3. The embarrassing part, perhaps, is that some of the Wizards think they will be a good defensive team based on last year’s reputation. They haven’t put in enough work to achieve that same reputation this season.
“Is it embarrassing to start 0-2?” John Wall was asked by the media scrum after the game.
“No, it’s not embarrassing at all,” Wall started. “We’ve got a lot of room for improvement, it’s just embarrassing to lose your home opener when you had a great chance to take over the lead and finish the game out.”
Perhaps Wall should be a little more embarrassed overall.
—Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
The side door to the Verizon Center press conference room suddenly opens. I wouldn’t call it tension, but the action cuts media banter like a knife to abrupt silence. A member of the Wizards media and PR team slides the tiniest bottle of water available across the table to await a soon-encroaching Randy Wittman. I chuckle inside at the sight. Usually the coach gets a normal-sized bottle of water. Now, at least, perhaps he can quench his thirst in one or two gulps and be done with it.
No one wants to ask the first question. No one really knows what to ask. Let the veteran AP guy do it. He does. Randy instructs the reporter to tell him what he thought the problem was, rhetorically. “You watched the game,” Wittman countered. And then F-bombs about the defense.
Wittman on his team in the second half:
“Our guards were picking up their guards at the free throw line. We had no pressure on the wings. We created nothing defensively in the second half. We were just going to come out and play and think that we were going to win the game. This has happened over and over and over again. And I’ve got to figure it out. That’s obviously the first question.”
“We take the easy way out right now. We’re up 14 or 15 … now I’m not going to get up and deny the wing, which we wanted to do the whole night, which we did for the most part in the first half—deflections, steals, run-outs. Now I’m going to take it easy, we’re up 14, I don’t have to exert as much energy. And it always comes back to bite you. It’s been that way with this group of guys for a couple years.”
And Wittman’s press conference was over after two questions.
—Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
First: Marcin Gortat with some interesting words about the pick-and-roll game between he and John Wall. When asked if he’s comfortable with the schemes in Washington:
“I would say it’s getting better, it’s getting better. It’s still not perfect. Obviously I’m learning to play with these guys. I’m learning to play with John, who’s super fast. At some point, when I’m setting a screen, by the time I open up, he’s already at the rim, so it looks like he doesn’t need me to roll to the basket. So again, I’m just learning. In the fourth quarter, Coach said ‘Go set a screen’ and [John] just told me ‘No, no, I don’t need screen now,’ so he’s pretty much good enough to do it on his own. Like I said, it’s a learning process for me.”
Well then. Check the video if you would like:
3 out of 5 stars
33 min | 26 pts| | 10-19 FG | 6 asts | 3 stls | 2 TOs | 3 rebs
After the first 12 minutes of play, John Wall looked like he was headed toward a magical night. He was aggressive on defense, he couldn’t miss on offense, he talked a little trash to rookie Michael Carter-Williams, and he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. In the second half, it wasn’t just that his shot was off (1-for-6) but the aggressiveness subsided, he gambled more on defense, and he could not stop Carter-Williams (12 points and three assists in the second half alone). It isn’t good enough that Wall started quickly, and put the team on his back for 12 minutes.
After the game, Wall mentioned he was beset by fatigue in the first quarter and back spasms in the third quarter, which may have accounted for his second half drop off. Meanwhile, in the other locker room, Sixers coach Brett Brown said this about Carter-Williams: “He feels a responsibility to be a point guard, to get our veterans through it. That’s a rare quality for a young man, and he has that.” Wall has shown the quality in the past—the end of last year to be specifc—and it was sorely needed against Philadelphia as well. —R. Mobley
0 out of 5 stars
36 mins | 10 pts | 4-18 FGs | 2-5 3PTs | 0-1 FTs | 3 rebs | 3 asts | 5 TOs
I called Beal a brat. Damn right I did. But, to the 20-year-old’s credit, he owned up to bad body language after the game. I asked him in the locker room if he thought that negative body language was one of the other issues, in addition to defensive woes, that the Wizards faced on Friday night.
Beal: “Yea, I’m a victim of it. I mean, I’m not ashamed to say it. Like, if I wanted to blame anybody, I would probably blame myself, because my teammates feed off my energy. And I feel like I probably took myself out of the game way too much and worried about other things in the game. So, I probably put this one on my shoulders.”
“You have a quick turnaround within the next 48 hours,” said Beal when asked another question about not allowing these issues to snowball. So, show us something in Miami, Bradley. —K. Weidie
2.5 out of 5 stars
39 min | 12 pts | 5-15 FG | 1-7 3Ps | 6 asts| 2 stls | 2 TOs| 14 rebs
The turnover was chalked up to a Marcin Gortat bad pass, but with time winding down in the fourth, Gortat fought to keep a ball inbounds and slung it towards Ariza, who could have caught it but just … didn’t? It was unclear then why Ariza wasn’t ready for the pass, and time hasn’t brought any clarity to the matter.
The stat line says Ariza helped in a variety of areas, and it doesn’t lie, per se. —C. Dirks
3 out of 5 stars
28 mins | 10 pts | 5-7 FGs | 8 rebs | 2 asts | 2 stls | 2 TOs
Booker looked like a servicable role player in Washington’s home opener. Too bad he had to start in the place of Nene. Against some teams, Booker’s undersized status will get him beat. He can only combat that with untamed hustle, which is what he was able to do against Philadelphia for the most part. Booker’s post moves this season have improved, that’s for sure, but you just wish his defensive awareness would get up to speed. After the game, the inevitably reserved Booker was asked if playoff talk for this team was premature. Book: “We can’t just talk about it, we’ve got to be about it. Our first two games, we haven’t been about it.” Simple, but well-stated. —K. Weidie
1.5 out of 5 stars
37 min | 12 pts | 5-10 FG | 7 rebs | 1 ast| 3 blks | 4 TOs
A pick-and-roll through traffic, second-nature post moves, and decent shooting. All positives, and all skill upgrades at the center position.
Against the Sixers, Gortat’s defense was … nonexistent. The Sixers worked the paint (74? yup! 74 points in the paint), and Gortat watched as layup after layup snuck in right in front of his eyes and out of his reach. Was it a coincidence that Gortat’s on-court plus/minus was the lowest of any Wizard at minus-11? —C. Dirks
1 out of 5 stars
15 min | 7 points| | 2-4 FG | 3 rebs | 3 stls
Harrington started the game looking spry on both ends of the floor. He rebounded, he stole a pass from Sixers guard Tony Wroten, and he hit a 31-footer to end the first quarter. But much like Wall, he faded badly in the second half, save for a steal that ended with him going behind the back before dunking the ball. With five seconds left in the game, Harrington stormed off the court without shaking hands with fans, the opposing team, or Nene and Chris Singleton, who seemed to be trying to console him. —R. Mobley
2 out of 5 stars
24 min | 13 pts| | 4-9 FG | 3-7 3Ps | 2 stls
After watching Trevor Ariza do the heavy lifting in the shooting department in the first game against the Pistons, Martell Webster and his shooting stroke from the corner returned in game 2 … kind of. He was relatively quiet until the fourth quarter when he led the team with nine points, including a late 3-pointer to bring the Wizards within three points with 1:15 left. Unfortunately for Martell, Thaddeus Young, the man he was guarding for much of the quarter, had 10 points, including eight straight late in the quarter to seal the game for the Sixers. But hey, at least Martell’s stroke is back, right? —R. Mobley
2.5 out of 5 stars
11 min | 8 pts | 4-8 FG | 2 rebs | 0 ast| 0 blks | 1 TOs
The most “plus” player (plus-4) on the team!
In two consecutive Seraphin possessions (which were fittingly two long 2-point shots from the side of the court), those watching were witness to why Seraphin will most likely be with the team next year—a smooth, quick decision to take a practiced jumper on an away move, which went in—and why he shouldn’t be—he tried it again, got double teamed, and still tried to jack up the shot, even though he wasn’t able to shake free.
Passing is not an option. Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate.
Seraphin gets another star for a nice finish on the break, where he looked more mobile than expected. —C. Dirks
1.5 out of 5 Stars
14 mins | 4 pts | 2-4 FGs | 0-1 3Ps | 2 rebs | 4 asts | 0 TOs
I’m pretty sure that Maynor was brought in to make more of an impact—after all, the Wizards pounced on signing him at the onset of free agency. Sure, he’s just a backup to John Wall … but also someone the team hoped to pair alongside Wall. Yes, small sample size and all, Maynor and Wall haven’t spent one minute on the court together over two games. Partially because if a small-ball lineup works best for the Wizards, and they still want to give themselves a better chance at defense, you keep a guy Maynor’s size off the court. His stat line wasn’t bad this game, but any sort of impact was barely noticeable. —K. Weidie
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