Key Legislature: Wizards 104 vs Clippers 96 — Clipper Skipper Crashes Into Wall | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 104 vs Clippers 96 — Clipper Skipper Crashes Into Wall

Updated: December 13, 2014

Image taken from the internet—with the utmost respect.

There seems to come a moment, in most uncompetitive competitions (and Friday night’s tilt at Verizon Center, for all its pre-game hype, was almost never competitive) when, amid the battering of a lopsided contest, the losing side’s spirit seems to slip its moorings and detach from an otherwise foundational reservoir of competitive pride and purpose. In a very real sense, the loser becomes demoralized, temporarily separated from whatever principles make up the machinery of their combined effort: commitment, precision, hustle, hard-work, focus, teamwork, trust, a physical or psychological edge. Effort wanes, camaraderie vanishes, focus lapses, and the coordinated pursuit of victory collapses. In basketball terms this is usually identified as some mixture of lousy body language, lackadaisical defense, sloppy offense, and poor shot selection.

The Wizards came out warm and got buckets early, putting pressure on a Los Angeles Clippers squad that seemed almost too patient in the game’s opening stages. Matt Barnes, perhaps one of the worst starters on any NBA team, hoisted three shots before any other Clipper had taken two, and that’s … well, that alone is a victory of sorts for Washington’s defense. By the time the Clippers upended that early trend they were in a five-point hole and ceding dangerous momentum to a home team buoyed by an encouragingly and enthusiastically partisan home crowd. Still, an early 10-point lead is easily undone, especially by a team as talented, experienced, well-coached, and prolific as the Clippers.

With the first half winding to a close, Washington’s early edge and crowd-fueled momentum were in danger of being mostly for naught, as the usual combination of less-than-ideal shot selection and a disconcertingly lackluster turn from their normally stalwart bench kept the Wiz from building much of a cushion. With 2:14 left on the clock, the home team clung to a six-point lead against a Clippers team capable of throwing together a double-digit run quicker than you can say “Cromnibus.”

That is when John Wall happened. Optimus Dime transformed suddenly from his humble human point guard disguise into a massive mechanized laser-blasting Gobot. In this metaphor, Chris Paul is Megatron, if Megatron took special pride in pretending to fall over every few minutes and then making disingenuous pleas for redress. Can you be a Point God if you cheat? Do they make cheating gods? Who do we talk to about that?

This was a bad stretch for Mr. Paul, who’d been mostly a quiet non-factor to that point, accruing six points and three assists at the helm of a sleepy Clippers offense. In short, Wall ate him up, harassing him into two quick turnovers, dropping a 3 in his mug, driving him into the paint with a wicked full-speed crossover before whipping the ball to Bradley Beal for another 3, and throwing in a soaring, savage block of a Glen Davis layup for giggles. The lead ballooned from six to 15 points, and the Clippers never came close to recovering. L.A.’s mojo milkshake had been utterly drunk by Washington’s whirling dervish in one spectacular sequence of two-way brilliance. They’d been demoralized! An early haymaker connected with their competitive pride muscle and crushed it flat.

Later—after what had been all but over for nearly a half of basketball, the game was mercifully, officially ended—Randy Wittman talked about Wall leading the Wizards’ efforts on the defensive end, about disrupting the offense’s flow, and really, that was the story of the game. There were moments, here and there, when a timely Rasual Butler step-back jumper or ill-advised but ultimately successful Kevin Seraphin robo-hook stymied the Clippers’ chances at swinging momentum, but momentum was the only thing ever at stake, and it was certainly heartening to see the Wizards take even that small prize so seriously and defend it so intensely. Whatever occasional lapses took place on offensive were more than made up for by emphatic dominance at the other end.

Wall spoke afterward of that sustained effort, of the importance of not letting the Clippers gain a foothold, acknowledging L.A.’s usual offensive aptitude:

“They can get it going pretty quickly. I think we just made it tough, made them take tough shots and got them out their comfort zone. … I think we just did a great job of moving the ball and not letting them get into a rhythm offensively.”

Surly Chris Paul was altogether uninterested in doling out plaudits, even after a thorough paddling, offering begrudging and lukewarm praise: “[John Wall] has always been a really good defender. He gets in the passing lanes and gets his hands on the ball.”

Well, thanks, but, no, Wall has not always been a really good defender, not really. Nor is he yet always a really good defender. But when he is good, he is something else altogether. Mere mortals do not descend from the atmosphere to brutally spike layups from interior players, and Wall has always had that in him, but Friday night it was a sustained and relentless defensive undressing of the NBA’s most-celebrated point guard that turned the tide and locked it in place. The Clippers, unmoored and upended, were lost to the icy depths.

Chris Thompson