D.C. Council Game 39: Wizards 98 vs Pistons 104: Sisyphus Calls and Smoove Answers, Wizards Roll Back Down the Hill
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. 39: Wizards vs Pistons; contributors: Adam Rubin and Conor Dirks from inside the Verizon Center, and John Converse Townsend from outside it.
Washington Wizards 98 vs Detroit Pistons 104
So Close. Still So Far Away.
Washington just cannot get over the .500 hump. And the players and coaches are tired of hearing about it.
“I don’t care about this .500.” –Nene
“I knew you were going to ask me that. It’s been proven to be pretty tough.” –Randy Wittman
Well, there is one simple way to stop the incessant .500 chatter … win. Bradley Beal suggested another option after the game:
“Somebody just needs to not tell us our record and we’ll just go out and play. Any time they tell us we’re .500, it’s like we just pressure ourselves too much and end up not showing up.”
So, if you really want to see a winning basketball team in D.C. for the first time in five years, stop talking about it, stop shrinking from the questions about it, and make it happen, dammit.
Randy Wittman explained after the game that the opening of the third quarter was the nail in the Wizard’s coffin. Washington took an eight-point lead into half-time and looked poised to finally—oh, I forgot, we are not supposed to talk about it.
“You come in at halftime up eight and within the first five minutes we were down one, we lose that lead and get the first timeout call, that’s tough. Somehow, again we have to get a better focus of coming out. Especially when you have a lead like that. Just try to go out and get your first four or six points and all of a sudden you’re at 14, and as the opponent you’re thinking, ‘Wow,’ instead of it being the other way around where they make their first two or three shots, now it’s a two-point game. Now they’re up leading again.”
Josh Smith was the culprit, scoring 10 points during Detroit’s 17-6 run to start the quarter. And he did it in the most surprising of ways—by hitting four jump shots over Nene. Smith had recently been tagged by those pesky advanced stats as one of the worst jump shooting forwards in the NBA, and he was none too pleased. J-Smoove sent the stat nerds back to their parent’s basement to recalculate his percentages. Washington never got the lead again.
—Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
Unfortunately, this is too easy. How do you feel at the end of the day? Are you sad because you’re on your own? Usually, you get by with a little help from your friends. It would be reductive to here simply write that John Wall was A+ and every other Wizard was F (Martell Webster, for example, played exceedingly well minus the late-game strip by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and three other turnovers), but in this case the marks are appropriate enough to at least note that this award was not deliberated before moving on.
Wall was by-and-large incredible. He took 13 shots around the basket and converted 10 of them. He took two 3-pointers and made them both. He scored 34 points in 37 minutes of play and many of those points were spectacular.
Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks was appropriately impressed after the game, answering a question from David Aldridge about when he, as a player, “got it”:
“John Wall, and I think as I am watching him play, he has slowed his game down. He attacks when he has space and I think he is a little smoother in everything he does. You can see the time that he has put in his game. He runs his team well. He runs the break as well as anyone. I think he just has taken his time, and picked up the little nuances of the game… He plays the game at a nice little speed now and I said to some people, ‘This guy is good now.’ ”
—Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
Marcin Gortat and Nene’s post defense. We know that Gortat is one of the worst rim-protectors in the Association, but Nene complements him with desperately needed defensive attitude, and results. But that frontline combination just didn’t work, despite Nene’s muscle, and Will Bynum, Kyle “Boo Radley” Singler and other Pistons were able to find space in the painted area and score with ease. Detroit scored HALF their points in the paint (52), Washington scored 38, about their season average (20th in NBA). The Wizards were out-scored by seven in second-chance points (10-17).
—John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend)
Martell Webster. Webster showed those following Washington’s second try to climb above .500 the type of form that made him one of the NBA’s most dangerous weapons from beyond the arc last season: 6-for-8 from the field, 3-for-5 from 3. He made himself available, hit shots, and helped four Wizards get credited for assists (Wall and Nene each earned two). And he was the preferred option on the wing for Randy Wittman in the fourth quarter—Webster played almost all 12 minutes and went 2-for-3 from the field for four points. Only Wall had more points in the quarter (13).
—John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend)
That session was … the boulder rolling back down the hill.
The gods (at least the Greek ones) condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of the mountain, at which point the rock would promptly fall back down the way it came, necessitating another push to the top. [Ed. Note: Flip Saunders is very familiar. -KW] Albert Camus called Sisyphus an “absurd hero,” but also noted the humanity of the myth: knowing the struggle to reach some new height, being conscious of it, is both torturous and liberating.
“If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus … knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”
So, should the Wizards get angry, Albert?
“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Because, at the end of the day, the rock is his thing. Acknowledging the truth conquers the agony. Bradley Beal, who said “someone just needs to not tell us our record” after the game, was wrong. Nene, who said “I think we need to stop talking about this .500” was wrong. Own it. You don’t discover the absurd (in the Wizards case, not being able to surmount a .500 record) without at least attempting to, as Camus puts it, “write the manual of happiness.” When the team pushes the boulder over the other side (and they will, unlike our artfully fabricated, metaphoric friend Sisyphus), it won’t just be another game. This is their thing, and they should know that now.
—Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
This game certainly was not won or lost on one play. There was a whole series of late-game breakdowns and missed 3-point attempts that led to the loss. But one particular coaching decision stands out—perhaps because it was Washington’s last gasp. With 20.6 seconds left Washington had the ball, down four points. Wall had just made a driving layup to cut the lead to three and Brandon Jennings missed one of two free throws, setting up a chance for the Wizards to make it a one possession game.
Conventional wisdom is split on whether to go for a quick 2-pointer to cut the lead to two and hope for a missed free throw ,or forcing a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one. With John Wall shooting 15-for-23 on the night and having scored easily on his last three possessions, Wittman could have put the ball in Wall’s hands for a quick layup. Wittman instead drew up a play for Martell Webster with the instructions to take a 3-pointer if it is open and drive if it is not:
“It was either-or. We didn’t want to just force and jack up a three if it wasn’t there. We practice all the time of now putting it on the floor and trying to see if they will collapse and find another shooter. I couldn’t really tell what happened when he lost the ball or how he lost the ball, but I do think he was trying to get Brad in the other corner after he put it on the floor. That’s what you work on. You don’t want to force up a three that does not have a chance to go in. You work it and try to get a defender at the rim and kick the ball back out.”
Webster was asked after the game what his intentions were when Caldwell-Pope stole the ball:
“I was looking to dunk it. Right when I gathered is when he came across and got the steal.”
—Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
Wiz Kids Backcourt. Return of the Mack Court.
The Following Block.
4.5 out of 5 stars
37 mins | plus-3 | 34 pts | 15-23 FGs | 2-2 3Ps | 2-4 FTs | 4 rebs | 6 asts | 4 TOs
As TAI’s Adam Rubin tweeted during the game, Wall’s playmaking ability is likely to break this humble website’s trademark in-game Vine machine (otherwise known as Kyle Weidie’s mobile phone). His slam on Greg Monroe in the first quarter was downright evil. Wall had no business rising up over the 6’11”, 250-pound Pistons power forward, but he did, and the dunk should secure a second seat among the week’s top plays for Wall after the circus shot he converted against Chicago.
Will John Wall, unlike Nene, embrace the push beyond .500 as a “thing”?
“It is very big, try to get back to .500 at least, and then get over .500 before you go to a tough West Coast trip.”
Sure is big. This guy wants it. —C. Dirks
4 out of 5 stars for effort
30 mins | minus-7 | 7 pts | 2-14 FGs | 1-7 3Ps | 2-3 FTs | 3 rebs | 2 asts | 3 TOs
Bradley scored the fewest points—seven—since March 20, 2013, a six-point effort against the Phoenix Suns. But he was (mostly) doing all the right things on offense: looking for angles to the hoop, attacking, and spotting-up in typical fashion beyond the arc. It just never really worked out. He missed a reverse layup on a baseline drive, committed a pair of turnovers in the second quarter (traveling and fumbling the ball out of bounds), got the ball stripped, and was forced into hope-for-the-best heaves and heavy contact at the rim. All that plus the fact he was cooler than cool—I’m talking ice cold—from beyond the arc adds up to a rough night. —J.C. Townsend
2 out of 5 stars
40 mins | minus-3 | 7 pts | 1-7 FGs | 1-4 3P| 4-4 FTs | 8 rebs | 7 asts | 3 stl | 1 TOs| 4 PF
Ariza had a very uneven game. He played the entire first quarter and showed a lot of energy with seven points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals. But he did not score again during his remaining 28 minutes on the court. His rebound and assist numbers were solid, but John Wall could have used another offensive option down the stretch.—A. Rubin
1.5 out of 5 stars
35 mins | minus-9 | 14 pts | 5-9 FGs | 4-10 FTs | 4 rebs | 3 asts | 1 blk | 4 TOs
Nene, whose hands ended the game against Chicago by blocking Jimmy Butler’s last-ditch 3-point attempt, also ended the game against Detroit. The slow accumulation of Nene’s missed free throws (he was 4-for-10) conveniently parallels a comparison of the final point totals. Just like his block wasn’t the only reason for the win, his free throw misses weren’t the only reason for the loss, but Nene saw it differently after the game.
“The difference was free throw line, and that started with myself.”
How does Nene plan to improve his poor (61 percent on the season compared to 68 percent for his career) free throw shooting?
“Stick with same plan, same form, and get confidence. If you feel peace inside, you make the free throw.”
#NeneHands, abandoned by the angels. And incapable of checking Josh Smith in the second half. —C. Dirks
2.5 out of 5 stars
35 mins | plus-7 | 10 pts | 4-6 FGs | 2-2 FTs | 12 rebs | 0 asts | 0 blks | 2 TOs| 2 PF
Gortat played a healthy 35 minutes but you got the impression he would have preferred to play 39. Gortat was benched the final four minutes of the game as Detroit went with a three-guard lineup alongside Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. Since neither Nene nor Gortat could matchup with Smith, only one could play. Marcin rushed out of the locker room before the media could ask his opinion on the matter but you could guess his answer. With a team-leading plus/minus of plus-7, he has a point. —A. Rubin
4 out of 5 stars
28 mins | minus-1 | 7 pts | 6-8 FGs | 3-5 3P | 0-0 FTs | 2 rebs | 2 asts | 1 stl | 4 TOs | 6 PF
Martell continued his mini-resurgence last night with another three 3-pointers. As long as Wittman continues using an eight-man rotation, it is imperative that Webster continues to put up double-digit points. There simply are not enough scorers on the roster, especially on nights where Beal shoots 2-for-14. Webster loses a star for his game-sealing turnover with 20 seconds remaining, which is discussed more fully above. —A. Rubin
n/a out of 5 stars
6 mins | plus-10 | 0 pts | 0-0 FGs | 0 rebs | 1 ast
Booker injured his left ankle early in the second quarter and left the court with Head Athletic Trainer Eric Waters. No updates. It’s a shame because he was moving the ball quickly, keeping the Pistons D on their heels. Jan Vesely picked up Cook Book’s minutes. —J.C. Townsend
2 out of 5 stars
15 mins | minus-11 | 3-5 FGs | 1-4 FTs | 2 rebs | 1 ast | 5 PFs
Airwolf was on a mission. Big boys gotta eat, and he was operating around the basket like Yogi Bear. He earned an and-1 by kissing a lob from Wall off the glass—he air-balled the free throw, naturally—and cleaned up a missed layup from Wall with a tip-slam before adding a second jam in the paint. But that was about it from Vesely, who should be reminded he’s allowed to grab rebounds, he doesn’t have to slap them away. —J.C. Townsend
1 out of 5 stars
12 mins | minus-11 | 4 pts | 1-4 FGs | 1-3 3Ps | 1-2 FTs | 0 rebs | 0 asts | 1 TO
Less Indiana Jones (“Temple of Doom”), more Nickelodeon (“Legends of the Hidden Temple”).
Aside from a buzzer-beating shot at the end of the first quarter, #TempleTime resembled another time that shall not be named herein until it must be. Detroit’s substitutes abused Washington’s bench, making up 11 points while Temple was on the floor. He shot poorly, failed to make any significant plays (or even pedestrian ones), and couldn’t build on a string of strong performances as John Wall’s understudy. —C. Dirks
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