DC Council 28: Wizards at Knicks — Rockin' Around the MSG | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

DC Council 28: Wizards at Knicks — Rockin’ Around the MSG

Updated: December 26, 2014

Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council:
Grading Washington players from Game No. 28: Wizards vs. Knicks at Madison Square Garden;
Contributor: Chris Thompson (@madbastardsall), from a couple hundred miles south of NYC.


The NBA’s Christmas Day slate of games is undeniably a kind of prostration before a demographic of casual hoops fans that basically aren’t found, by way of comparison, in football. The NFL has the luxury of drawing teams out of a hat for prime national broadcasts—last year’s hot teams, or whichever team happens to have whichever well-known rookie quarterback, or, really, whoever the hell is available—and viewership is basically assured. They’ve been rolling out the sad Detroit Lions for Thanksgiving Day games for 59 years now, for crying out loud.

The NBA would almost certainly prefer to mete out Christmas Day appearances as a reward and spotlight for on-court success, but they’ve had to prioritize fitting in marquee teams from key markets, records be damned, to the immense and ongoing frustration of hardcore hoops fans. As with the national television schedule, the Christmas schedule is basically an even split between worthy, quality basketball teams and shoehorned major media market representatives. And no Christmas Day matchup more aptly represented this concession than the Wizards’ showcase domination of the miserable and miscast Knicks.

Never mind notions of fairness, this should be seen as a wonderful Christmas gift to Wizards fans from Santa and/or the NBA, the chance to see the team put on a show on a big stage with many more eyes and cameras watching. And, for a change, the Wizards are a team that knows what to do when the table is set: feast. And feast they did, from start to finish. And they, they themselves, the Wizards, even carved the roast beast.

In this Grinch-inspired metaphor the roast beast is New York’s defense, perhaps? Yes. Yes that’s it.

Washington Wizards



Box Score

New York Knicks


John Wall, PG

336 MIN | 10-17 FG | 1-2 3FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 11 AST | 1 STL | 3 TO | 24 PTS | +11

We’re reaching the point where performances like what we saw from Wall on Christmas are more the norm than the exception, and that’s really something, because he did things in this game that might otherwise defy description. From the opening tip Wall attacked the paint relentlessly, carrying over some of the determination he showed in the final push against Chicago into this national showcase game. When his defender responded early by ducking far under a high screen, Wall squared up and buried a deep 3-pointer, the exact kind of shot he and Beal and probably one or two other Wizards ought to be taking more often. Rather than dribble into awkward midrange attempts, Wall took first José Calderón and later Shane Larkin down to the low block for shockingly polished-looking post buckets, including a highlight spin to the baseline for an uncontested scoop layup. Friends, John Wall with a reliable post game will simply be too much for opposing defenses, and his showing on the block against the Knicks was massively impressive. New York’s savvy fans oohed and ahhed at Wall’s finishing, his handles, his pinpoint passing, and rose to their feet for a spectacular spinning layup in traffic, the kind of play only one or two other guys in the entire league would even attempt.

When Quincy Acy finally expressed the Knicks’ roiling frustration via a flagrant takedown in the open court, Wall leapt to his feet and pushed back. Between the time when an upstart underdog team is just happy to be there and the point when they’re so used to being a target that such aggression merely rolls off their shoulders, there’s a time of transition when someone has to make a show of refusing to be bullied. Nene has been playing that role for as long as he’s been in Washington, smashing elbows into opposing bigs, tangling with preening stars, head-butting Jimmy Butler. On Christmas, when a veteran got touchy with the engine of Washington’s dominance, it was Wall, the engine himself, who fought back. To long-suffering Wizards fans who are only now tentatively removing the paper bags from their heads for the first time in decades, that act was about more than personal pride—it was the literal, physical manifestation of Washington’s newfound NBA stature. Four Wizards rushed to the scene before a single other Knick came to Acy’s defense. It was a great moment of first defiance and then, importantly, solidarity.

Paul Pierce, SF

23 MIN | 1-5 FG | 1-3 3FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +8

Paul Pierce looks increasingly tired these days. In previous games, when his shot hasn’t fallen early, he’s had a commendable tendency to bully his way into the paint, initiate contact, and generate free throws. Not so against the Knicks. He did work his way into the paint for an assist to a cutting Nene, but mostly he bruised the rim and backboard with laser-straight jumpers and lurked harmlessly on the offense’s weak side. Pierce was pesky enough defending Carmelo Anthony, and that alone is a massive expenditure of energy. Luckily, his offensive services were not especially needed on the day.

Marcin Gortat, C

29 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +11

Each of Gortat’s four made buckets came on assists right under the basket, but, interestingly, not a single one came in the pick-and-roll. In fact, Gortat registered only one attempt from the pick-and-roll on the afternoon, and it was a Beal pick-and-roll. Some of this may be because New York’s perimeter defense was just so poor there was almost no reason for Washington’s ball-handlers (particularly John Wall, who got wherever he wanted whenever he wanted) to bother passing the ball after using a pick. But more generally, and perhaps ominously, defenses are starting to disrupt and frustrate the Wall/Gortat pick-and-roll, limiting Gortat’s usefulness on offense somewhat. The Polish Hammering Machine of Mechanized Hammers threw in a pair of first-half blocks and gathered a game-high nine rebounds. It was a productive 29-minute night.

Bradley Beal, SG

36 MIN | 7-16 FG | 2-5 3FG | 1-1 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +6

Two things really stood out about Beal’s Christmas performance, and neither of them were particularly encouraging: his pick-and-roll and general off-the-bounce game still need significant development; and he was noticeably bothered by the pressure defense of guys like Pablo Prigioni and Tim Hardaway, Jr. There’s a passivity to Beal’s approach as a ball-handler that is seemingly the opposite of what he showed in the playoffs last season, and the hope is that version of Beal will resurface as the season moves along. Hardaway, Jr. is a lousy, lousy defender, and Beal should be able to eat his lunch every time. Beyond the generally underwhelming showing as a ball-handler, Beal floated to the right spots on the floor for catch-and-shoot looks from deep, and was a capable and occasionally disruptive defensive presence. And his team won.

Nene Hilario, PF

24 MIN | 6-8 FG | 0-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +7

Wittman reinserted Nene into the starting lineup, possibly in response to me tweeting that very suggestion, but more probably because that was always the plan. Kris Humphries hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire, and the team needed a boost. The big Brazilian responded with his usual pristine help defense and an assertiveness on offense that has typified the recent, post-injury Nene. His first four buckets came right at the rim on aggressive moves to the basket: a drive for an and-1 finish; a cool drop-step from a bruising backdown; a transition layup; and a sweet cut to the middle of the paint for a lefty finger roll. Nene opened the second half with his first and only catch-and-shoot jumper of the night, and generally looked like just what the doctor ordered out there in the starting five.

Kris Humphries, PF

24 MIN | 6-8 FG | 0-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | +7

Right now, this seems like a more natural role for Kris Humphries, spelling Nene, banging down low with bench bigs, scrapping for points, and providing a useful midrange release valve for Washington’s limited bench ball-handlers. Here and there Humphries needed to settle down—there was a stretch in the second quarter when it seemed like he either shot a 20-footer or tried to attack off-the-dribble from the perimeter on every touch. Humphries can’t do that sort of thing as a starter, when he’s stealing looks from other players who are frankly a lot more offensively gifted, but that aggression is ultimately welcome on Wittman’s bench-heavy lineups, where tentativeness and passivity are still occasional issues. His shot was falling on Thursday afternoon, he had a green light to fire away, and he wound up anchoring the offense for important (albeit brief) stretches.

Otto Porter Jr., SF

12 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2 REB | 1 TO | 2 PTS | +3

Otto finished a fast-break with a layup. In the half-court, he seemed to have aggression on his mind early, but more than once his slight frame, lack of strength, and pedestrian athleticism combined to reduce ambitious drives into the paint into bumbling, awkward, more-or-less hopeless shot attempts. He mishandled a tough alley-oop pass from Andre Miller, and generally never much got into the flow of the game. It happens. He did manage to get his Inspector Gadget hand onto the ball when digging down from the perimeter, leading to a steal, but Otto was otherwise a non-factor.

Rasual Butler, SF

25 MIN | 4-7 FG | 3-6 3FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 11 PTS | +7

There was a while there, earlier in the season, when it seemed like Rasual Butler would never miss again. The numbers don’t point to much of a regression of late, but the time when Butler could close his eyes, spin around, punt the ball in a random direction, and watch it inevitably splash through the net seems to have ended—at least for now. Butler’s open shots are falling, and his less-open shots are not. Not as often, anyway.

The good news is Butler appears to have responded to this recent trend by simply taking fewer aggressive shots and finding other ways to contribute. Against the Knicks he finished with a game-high three offensive rebounds, and played fearless, physical denial defense on Carmelo Anthony for important stretches. He found his way to useful open spots on the perimeter and knocked down important corner 3-pointers. In a game in which momentum was the only thing really ever up for grabs, Butler’s timely contributions kept even that firmly in Washington’s grasp.

Kevin Seraphin, C

11 MIN | 4-8 FG | 1 REB | 8 PTS | -1

Seraphin was in all-shots-all-the-time mode Christmas Day, but his defense was uneven and he was brutally victimized by an Amar’e Stoudemire half-spin in the post that sent the affable snake-charmer sprawling across the floor, to the resigned amusement of Wizards fans and the loud exclamations of the Madison Square Garden crowd. Seraphin was the only Wizard who played more than a minute and finished with a negative plus/minus.

Andre Miller, PG

12 MIN | 0-0 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 2 TO | 1 PT | +2

Professor Miller assisted on a nice transition hoop but otherwise had a quiet offensive night. Calderón, Prigioni, and Larkin are good match-ups for Gramps, the kinds of players he can defend adequately at one end and then torture with his jerky old-man game at the other. Had the Wizards pulled away some in the second half we might have been treated to expanded minutes and some geriatric highlights, but it was not to be on this night.

Stocking Stuffers from John


Chris Thompson