Opening Statements: Wizards at Pacers, Playoff Game 2–Pixels & Emails from the Abyss
Game 2. As of this morning, TeamRankings.com, the heady stat heads with real brains for minding their divisions and revisions, gave the Wizards a 60.2 percent chance at taking a series win to the dome. As Andy Samberg as Nicolas Cage would say, “That’s high praise!”
But you’ll remember that the Wizards, after a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats late in the season, were only given a 30 percent chance at ending the season with the sixth seed, much less the fifth. As you might imagine if you’ve taken a basic math course at some point in your brief (comparatively, when you take fossils into account) existence, it’s not over until that 60.2 percent reaches either zero or 100 percent. In this case, it’s hardly begun.
Teams: Wizards at Pacers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/ESPN 1000 AM
Spread: Pacers favored by 4.5 points.
Wizards tickets … anyone?
Click to get them served up for cheap via TiqIQ and TAI.
May 6, 10:29 a.m.
Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):
Well, I expected the Wizards to win last night, and they did. Why am I still surprised? Maybe because I was just a twinkle in my father’s eye the last time Washington won a game in the second round (1982).
Or maybe because it is still shocking that Wizards games can go the way you expect them to… That you can believe Trevor Ariza will mute Paul George and it will happen. That you can believe John Wall will manage another good game and he ends up with nine assists and just one turnover. I’m not going to ask where these Wizards were all season, or if they are “for real.” The season is in the rear view mirror, and five playoff wins compared to one loss says enough about their realness.
I know Bradley Beal is the name being breathlessly whispered in offices this morning, and it’s well deserved, but I was less impressed by his 25 points and more impressed with his seven rebounds, seven assists, and five steals. Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade had a baby, and he’s still an apprentice with a nifty mohawk, but people have been talking, and his name carries on the air. As Kyle put it: “kid was key.” Especially in the fourth quarter.
I’m not too ashamed to admit I’ve never been more emotionally engaged than I was last night, at least not on the positive side of the spectrum. For a foil, I’ve never been more emotionally devastated than I was after LeBron whispered in Gilbert’s ear and Arenas missed those two free throws, leading to a Damon Jones bucket, a Cavs win, and another Round 1 knockout.
What about you? Were you riding high on Bradley Beal’s “blue magic?”
May 6, 10:54 a.m.
Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):
Honestly, I am still a tad perplexed at the entire series of events that unfurled over the course of the evening. The Wizards have had shooters before (Legler, Chapman, 1/4 Mark Price), they have had fun combo guards capable of being frenetic on both the defensive and offensive end (Gilbert, Larry Hughes, non-fat Ledell Eackles) but I don’t think that a Washington team has ever had a complete package like Beal delivered to their doorstep unannounced by some mystical stork sent to save basketball in the DMV. My
father assured me this morning that Phil Chenier (PHIL) was as pure a shooter as Beal, but those Baltimore Bullets teams are permanently sepia-toned and exist in a primordial history where Arlington was still considered the sticks. The disconnect between the last really successful professional basketball team is something I think is profound and unstudied in Wizards scholarship. I think it’s hard to look at those Wes Unseld teams fondly if one grew up in the 1980s with Big Wes constantly making poor decision after poor decision on the PR side. Then came the success of the mid-aughts team, which turned out to be as filling and nutritious as throwing down three cans of Red Bull and two packs of Fun Dip and assuming you got your daily allotment of vitamins.
This I think strikes at the heart of what made that Game 1 performance so trippy. It wasn’t so much the output of Beal, but the way he went about doing it (3 goggles aside) that made it such a clean break from the recent and ancient past. No histrionics, not bitching at refs, no MAXIMUM FLEXING, Beal just straight up keep shoving daggers into the torso of the Pacers until they finally fell down. Creating new memories is a strange and glorious thing, but I’d rather watch these Wizards go down in flames with Beal raining jumpers upon the heads of Pacers rather than hear another dated reference to Wes Unseld’s outlet passes.
Which brings me to something I was reflecting upon this morning, are you getting a tad bit defensive about the Wizards now that national narrative merchants like Bill Simmons have taken the team on as their pet project? I feel like a hipster defending his vinyl collection and wanting to kick the posers out of the door. No, National TV Audience, you don’t ‘understand’ Bradley Beal! Trevor Booker is a ‘deep cut’ that will never be appreciated! As success grows, I am becoming more of a petulant child in regards to how I want to share “my” team with the Chris Webbers of the world who can’t be bothered to do the bare minimum of research. Does this make me stand alone as some weird caricature out of High Fidelity? Should I content myself with making fun of Roy Hibbert?
May 6, 6:21 p.m.
Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):
Well, Sean Cusack, I don’t think you’re alone, for whatever it’s worth. But I think your position is the rarer one. Most folks seem happy to share the team they devote so much of their time to. Who knows? Maybe it’s validation to their significant other, or their boss at work. “Look, boss, I ain’t crazy, the Wizards exist!” On second thought, hopefully no one says that, because it could be misconstrued vis a vis wizards not existing.
But just as some fans fawn over, and place a lot of importance in, national attention, they also deride the national media for the lack thereof in its absence. It’s the nature of the beast! And the national media beast is backwards-looking, as currently constructed. Like a monstrous yeti with eyes on each ass-cheek.
The Wizards won a series, so now they are very, very good. Before, the Wizards won no series, and made no playoffs within the yeti’s field of vision, so they were not good. They were bad, even. But, see, the Wizards were bad, and probably haven’t deserved much national media attention until very, very recently. Next year they’ll get their TNT games, and when they have a down year, the cycle will start anew. It’s not always a good system (see: Knicks, Lakers), but are national viewers really better served watching Kings vs. Hawks for a smattering of “perennially bad basketball team vs. decent basketball team that’s not going anywhere” just on principle?
That you loved the Wizards even when they were cripplingly flawed might just mean you were attempting to project your deep understanding and respect of human frailty onto a sports entity. Desperately attempting to project. But it was your love, and just because your team is flirting with new people now doesn’t mean your love wasn’t—isn’t—real.
We’re supposed to make sense. Let’s get back on track. Personally, I’ve enjoyed watching writers and Twitter conversationalists pick the Bulls, quickly explain why the Bulls never had a chance, and then pick the Pacers for the same reason they picked the Bulls! Despite the fact the Pacers were a completely different team after the All-Star Break.
With “Bao Bao” hitting Grantland as a nickname for Bradley Beal, and Drew Gooden restating what Bradley Beal is with the nickname “Young Pro,” we’re reaching critical mass here. Beal, with another 20-plus point playoff performance, is going to get a national nickname very, very soon. Bloggers, television analysts, Shaq, and other players will all attempt to make theirs stick. So let’s develop the definitive Bradley Beal nickname power ranking system.
Here are the entries, for now. Feel free to add: Big Panda. Blue Magic (I guess). Bao Bao. Young Pro. BB3.
May 7, 9:06 a.m.
Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):
But goddammit, when I loved the laundry … IT WAS REAL!
OK, ranked in order of considered virality and how much other people will giggle when you say it out loud:
- Bao Bao – It’s very D.C. It is evocative and fun to say, plus it’s alliterative. TAI also coined the nickname so this of course gets top billing.
- Big Panda – Sticks with a fun motif, but Pandas are kinda big to begin with so I feel that the “big” isn’t really contributing anything. Also reminds me that pandas are huge raccoons. [Note: John Wall calls Beal “Big Panda.”]
- Blue Magic – This has popped up over the past few days and I feel like people are going to make this “a thing” whether others like the name or not. Honestly think this will go the way of YOLO. Feels forced.
- Young Pro – Whoa there, Drew Gooden. Nickname making is a young man’s game, please stay in your lane.
- BB3 – Height of laziness. Not fun to say. Akin to calling you “CDBlogs.”
Speaking of a touch of wackiness, is Lance Stephenson the only Pacer that scares you in this series? I feel like more than any other “fandom” we can understand the love/hate relationship that Pacers have with their mercurial shooting guard via our own psychological scars regarding Gilbert Arenas. There were five or six plays in Game 1 where Stephenson absolutely terrified me with his athleticism and “don’t give zero fucks” attitude, and those plays either ended up with Lance doing something spectacular (stealing and dunking the ball), or baffling stupid (Lance stealing the ball and throwing an unnecessary behind the back pass to an unprepared teammate). Watching Stephenson is like going to a string quartet and watching violin suddenly break out of the song and start shredding for no other reason because they can. If Free Darko stated that basketball is jazz (improvisational, full of small brilliant moments) than Stephenson is pulling an Ornette Coleman and playing on his plastic clarinet. Of course, in the structure and inflexibility of Frank Vogel’s system, it’s like watching a bird smack in the windows of an aviary.
Do you think the Pacers need to FREE LANCE? How do they make this a series? Also, who bears more blame for this slow painful death: Frank Vogel, Larry Bird, or Roy Hibbert?
May 7, 1:21 p.m.
Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks):
The Stephenson play I remember most vividly from Game 1 was when Stephenson had Bradley Beal one-on-one on the right side of the court, out near the 3-point line. He hit Beal with a playoff okey-doke, and hopscotched sideways from the curve of the arc all the way to the baseline in one smooth motion. Beal couldn’t recover nearly in time, having bit on the initial fake and committing to challenge a shot that never came, and Lance fired up a wide open corner 3-pointer that would have been unassisted. Unassisted corner 3-pointers are like the white whale of the NBA game (Trevor Ariza only took one all season, compared to 70-plus assisted corner 3-pointers). The shot missed, however. And the world moved on. But I’m willing to be the sentinel at the gate of that memory.
Do the Pacers need to “free” Lance? I’m not sure. I do think that Beal is the easiest Wizards starter to exploit defensively. He’s just a wee panda, grasping for bamboo but suffering from near-constant object permanence issues as each stalk passes behind and in front of one another. It makes brain pudding for the panda youth of the NBA. Where Stephenson should take advantage of Beal is on screens set by West and Hibbert. Beal has a tendency to avoid the screen altogether by ducking around the back, like a Mario Kart player who doesn’t want to risk getting stuck in the rough and sticks to the outside loop of clear pavement.
If you believe what you read on the internet, and I’d advise against it, it’s not so much a person that bears the blame for the Pacers slow death: it’s a “situation.” But there’s always a solution to strife. And in the Pacers case, it’s a fish. A fish, a fish, my Pacers collapse for a fish.
Whether the infidelity rumor is true or not, it’s one of the juiciest ever to grace the playoff stage. Can you imagine an alternate universe where JaVale and Andray got in a fight at the club during the playoffs? Or one where Gilbert dropped a deuce in Blatche’s shoe in the playoffs? Something happened in Indiana, and it seems like Roy Hibbert has more to worry about than being trolled by an increasingly unfunny, meme-recycling Arenas. [Ed. Note: Or one where Kwame Brown got shit-faced at a Chinatown haunt, faked sick and missed practice, and was subsequently suspended for the rest of the playoffs. Oh, that did happen during Washington’s last series against the Bulls in 2005 when the series was tied 2-2, just before Arenas’ heroics in Game 5. Go figure. -KW]
Aside from that, I don’t think you should blame Vogel or Bird. These are the same Pacers that were the best team in the NBA for the better part of this year. The pieces are there, and they know how to play the right way, as demonstrated by their early season run.
I also don’t think anyone should assume the Pacers are unfixable, or that the Wizards will necessarily win this series. There are three more wins to be had.
I think the Wizards get another win tonight, but it will be ugly, and the Pacers could win if Stephenson has anything resembling a good game. The Pacers have been reality-checked many, many times. But if you saw David West near the end of Game 1, you could tell the game was getting to him. He’ll have a big game, but so will Nene. The balance of power otherwise favors Washington, with Wall continuing to pick specific spots for specific players.
Who is your x-factor for tonight? What adjustments will Frank Vogel make, if any?
May 7, 2:22 p.m.
Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):
I think the situation is so beyond weird at this point with the Pacers that we will be talking about this team for years. We always hear about “teams in turmoil” but normally only after the fact and certainly not over an extended period of months. To build on your Mario Kart reference, the Pacers keep getting blue shelled into oblivion but somehow are still tottering around on the racetrack, seemingly more content to ruin other peoples enjoyment of basketball rather then build anything credible of their own.
As for tonight’s tilt … coming into this series I had a clear idea of how I thought the series would play out and what types of of emotions that Wizards fans and media would feel as the series ground on:
Perhaps a bit macabre, but I was expecting numerous technicals, trench warfare and Lance running into the stands and choking Ernie Grunfeld. Instead the first game resembled something like:
Obvious walk in the park metaphor aside, it just feels too easy. I keep expecting the wizards to get bushwacked and it’s just NOT happening. Not do I think the Pacers are a team capable of revealing the flaws that followers of the ‘Zards are just waiting to be revealed like a slow-building zit at prom. I think Vogel has spent the last 24 hours screaming about Ariza and Beal and that despite shutting them down tonight, you can expect a huge game from John Wall and my personal x-factor, Martell Webster.
103-92, Wizards. Webster scores 16. Tweet it, pin it, ‘Gram it.