DC Council 36: Wizards vs Bulls — Wittman's Recipe Has the Right Ingredients | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

DC Council 36: Wizards vs Bulls — Wittman’s Recipe Has the Right Ingredients

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Updated: January 10, 2015

Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council:
Grading Washington players from Game No. 36: Wizards versus the Chicago Bulls in the District.
Contributor: Chris Thompson from the Verizon Center.

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SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT: My presence at Wizards games this season makes the team unbeatable. 

The Wizards led wire-to-wire against the Clippers, and last night they led (save for the first basket) wire-to-wire against the Bulls, and literally, literally, the only possible explanation is that I was at both games. Facts are facts.

Coach Wittman seemed happy to reduce this win to some particular mix of two specific ingredients: defensive intensity and pace. (Notably absent from his post-win euphoria-addled assessment: recognition of my vital role in their success. Alas.). Which is funny, because coach Wittman is happy to reduce every game, win or lose, to some particular mix of those same ingredients. This reduction paints a broadly accurate picture of this win (if only this win): the Wizards frustrated the hell out of the Bulls offense, and then pushed the ball into the front-court for early offense. In its assertiveness this balance had the feel of a classic mouth-punching.

On paper the result looks like a comprehensive shellacking, and that paper probably gets to the theme of the game, if not the specifics: Washington did lead wire-to-wire (after that pesky Derrick Rose lay-up to start the game), after all, even if it took momentum shifting bursts from the starters to bail out two wildly unsuccessful turns from Wittman’s wacky bench-heavy units. The good news—the great news, in fact—is that’s an uncommon problem in Washington these days. The Wizards have depth! Good depth! That this depth flaked out on Friday night’s game highlights more than anything else just how thoroughly superior Washington’s starters were to Chicago’s. In basic terms, they were all over those chumps, and the Bulls spent the night sinking helplessly into a psychic pit of despair, culminating first in a yellow-card tackle of John Wall in the open court by Aaron Brooks, and finally a technical foul for Joakim Noah, who, having decided the Bulls couldn’t keep up in the game of basketball any longer, decided to change the sport to soccer without notifying anyone else. It felt like an act of capitulation, and, I don’t mind saying, it was glorious.

 


Chicago
Bulls

86

Box
Score

Washington
Wizards

102

Nene Hilario, PF

29 MIN | 7-11 FG | 1-2 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | +25

As much as any Wizards player not named John Wall, Nene is graded on a curve of his own making. His defense is nearly always wonderful, generally in quiet, unspectacular ways, and so it often gets taken for granted. The truth is, in any game in which he plays significant minutes, he should pretty much always grade out pretty damn well on that strength alone. Against the Bulls, though, Nene brought the full package, right from the tip. In the first eight minutes of action he scored eight points and pulled down six rebounds, setting the tone for what would ultimately be a night of total domination for Washington’s starting front-court. He was physical at both ends, feisty, decisive with the ball, and just a huge, huge handful for Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah.

Down the stretch, with the win still in need of protection, Nene caught a John Wall jump-pass at the free-throw line and, in one smooth motion, fired a perfect bounce pass to Gortat in the restricted area for the uncontested layup. A few minutes later, with the shot-clock winding down, he took Noah down to the post and worked him over with a display of inspired pivoting, capped with a lingering death glare. Hard to say whether these two teams genuinely dislike each other, but what’s known is when Nene is at his best, he genuinely dislikes everyone.


Paul Pierce, SF

29 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +15

The scoring numbers don’t look very strong, but on a night when five other guys scored in double-figures and both Nene and Gortat had it rolling, not much was needed on that end from Old Man Truth. And, besides, the Bulls started Jimmy Butler at small forward, and he is both a heckuva defender and a tough cover for almost anyone at that position. Pierce’s heady and physical defense (and, it must be said, timely switches and rotations that here and there limited his exposure to Butler’s athletic edge) held Butler to his lowest shooting percentage (16.7%) since Game 1 of last season’s opening round playoff tilt, and worst plus/minus (-29) of his entire career.


Marcin Gortat, C

38 MIN | 10-16 FG | 1-5 FT | 13 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 21 PTS | +18

This felt like Gortat’s best game of the season. He scored around the basket, he knocked down jumpers, he did his thing on the glass, and he punctuated Washington’s defensive dominance with a pair of emphatic blocks. When he’s locked in on the defensive end, as he was in the first quarter, he can seem like a legitimate defensive anchor, strong, physical, nimble, and competitive as hell. Gortat had a rough stretch—hell, the whole team had a rough stretch—in the second quarter, when, after he subbed in for a strikingly ineffective Kevin Seraphin, he was unable to deter the in-full-swing layup line Chicago ran right through the middle of Washington’s defense. That was, ultimately, a minor blip. The Wizards ratcheted the defense back up with their starters on the floor during the decisive stages of the second half and Gortat, streaky free-throw-shooting aside, was generally magnificent.


John Wall, PG

35 MIN | 6-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 12 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 16 PTS | +25

A giddy Randy Wittman, addressing the media after the win, described Wall’s performance as “by far [his] best in terms of pace” this season. We’re at the point, now, when the options for superlatives to describe Wall’s overall play are getting slim—splendiferous? is “magnifico” a real word?—and so we’re grateful to Coach Wittman for allowing us to begin appraising Wall’s nightly magnifico-ness (triple word score!) via hyper-specific component analysis. Ah, yes, this was Wall’s best game in terms of pace—perhaps Sunday will be his best game in terms of communication, next Friday’s game his best in terms of eye-contact, some later date his best in terms of free-throw-line banter. Before long there will be nothing left for Wittman or anyone else to critique except his showering habits, which, frankly, could be more efficient. The man was all smiles at his post-game media session, but I think the sun was starting to rise in the east by then. Some of us have day jobs, John!

Wall’s defense was superb, his patience and floor-game in the half-court were next-level, and, yes, his pace was excellent. When the crowd rose and chanted “M-V-P!” in the fourth quarter, it didn’t sound like homerism, it sounded downright sensible.


Bradley Beal, SG

38 MIN | 7-16 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | +23

We could cherry-pick the normal Beal-isms and make a credible argument that his night could have been better, or we can smile warmly and with immense gratitude for the way Beal made Kirk Hinrich’s night absolutely miserable. In the first half the Wizards wore out Captain Kirk running him around screens in pursuit of Beal, exposing yawning crevices in Chicago’s normally-solid defense. The domination was so complete Thibs wound up hiding Hinrich on the bench for the final 15 minutes of the half. On cue, when Hinrich re-entered the game among Chicago’s second-half starters, Beal went right back to work, curling around one screen after another, forcing help as he effortlessly worked into the vulnerable middle of the court, and casting Chicago’s defense into disarray.

Things only got funnier when Hinrich had the ball: Beal chased down and spectacularly pinned Hinrich’s hysterically soft transition layup, and swooped in for a steal before speeding right past a flustered Hinrich for a soaring dunk.

So, yeah, Beal never got to the line, and he settled for an awful lot of jumpers. He also buried a DAGGER (!!!!) 3-pointer that sent Verizon’s crowd into hysterics, ran the floor for several stirring Wizards fast-breaks, and looked very much like Bradley Beal, Bulls Killer, the man at whom we all gaped in awe during last year’s playoff series.


Kris Humphries, PF

19 MIN | 2-7 FG | 5-6 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | -9

Humphries did his yeoman thing on the glass over his 19 minutes, but he was also part of the disorganized mess that was Washington’s defense over the better part of the second quarter. He, Seraphin, and, later, Gortat were in a tough spot, having to help over and over again as Chicago’s reserve guards torched Andre Miller and Rasual Butler, driving again and again right down the middle of Washington’s defense. It was telling, though, when he and Gortat had an animated back-and-forth headed to the Wizards’ bench after another momentum-stemming timeout. It’s one thing for speedy Aaron Brooks to get by Miller on the perimeter, something else for him to subsequently get all the way to the front of the rim unchecked. There were breakdowns along the back line, and many of them.

Humphries’ emphatic first-quarter block of an Aaron Brooks layup led directly to a gorgeous John Wall turbo break. He never really found his touch from the floor, but he found his way to the free throw line and sank 5-of-6. Not his best night, nowhere near his worst.


Otto Porter Jr., SF

7 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -5

Otto, too, was part of the awful second quarter bench performance, and was the one whose minutes suffered for it, although it certainly felt like Butler and Miller were the bigger culprits, getting absolutely chewed up off the bounce by Brooks and E’Twuan Moore. This is probably a Wittman thing: when the chips are down, Wittman is inclined to double-down on his veterans, even when those veterans are very obviously overmatched. Nikola Mirotic surprised Otto at the rim after a nice cut to the basket, blocking the kind of soft layup a guy with Porter’s limited strength and athleticism will sometimes fling up where others might go strong at the rim. Later, though, Otto took the ball in transition at the top of the key and, like a slo-mo version of Giannis Antetokounmpo, glided on too-few long strides right to the cup for a delicious bucket. It wasn’t enough to convince Wittman, who sat him for all but the final 24 seconds of the second half.


Rasual Butler, SF

21 MIN | 5-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | -1

I’ve mentioned a few times how Butler’s defense was bad in the second quarter, and it really, really was, but one of the very best things about this late-career version of Rasual Butler is how often and how reliably he makes up for whatever he hasn’t done well with plenty of other meaningful contributions. Tonight those contributions came in typical Rasual Butler fashion: vital spacing for the offense, and knock-down outside shooting. Butler drained three 3-pointers and scored 10 of his 12 points after intermission, during the stretch of the game when the Bulls might have been a little too close for comfort.

Beware, though, Wizards fans: not all is right with Rasual Butler. After the game, when asked the most important of all questions—is a hot dog a sandwich?—Butler answered in the affirmative. Which, whoa, you think you know a guy. It’s possible he wasn’t thinking straight, because of the hour and the post-win glow. Still, it’s enough to make you wonder whether the Wizards should trade him straightaway and never look back. A hot dog sandwich? Unreal.


Kevin Seraphin, C

10 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -2

It just wasn’t Seraphin’s night. He was slow defensively in the second quarter and responded to committed double-teams in the post as if he’d never seen such a thing and the ball had suddenly become a wasp’s nest. It took three short minutes and one brutal turnover for Randy Wittman to pull the plug and reinsert Gortat. Seraphin’s second-half minutes were marginally better, in that whatever he did out there he did quietly and competently enough to not glaringly undermine the team’s chances at competing like professionals. Seraphin’s lone bucket came on the patented catch-ball-drop-left-shoulder-rotate-90-degrees-jump-straight-up-launch-ball-at-43-degree-angle-hook-shot, and it was a beaut, as beauts go.


Andre Miller, PG

13 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 0 PTS | -9

Andre Miller was a puzzle against the Bulls. His first turnover came as a result of a collective moment of goofiness from pretty much everyone in the Wizards organization, when Jimmy Butler more-or-less walked up behind Miller, tapped him on his left shoulder, then reached under his right shoulder and snatched the ball like the unprotected and unsecured fanny-pack of a Madrid tourist. That no one, including Bradley Beal, who had just passed the ball to Miller, nor Randy Wittman, who was standing just feet away and, presumably watching the action with some interest, adequately warned Miller that he was about to have his pocket picked will be one of the enduring mysteries of this season. The second one came moments later, on a slow-pitch-softball-toss of a pass on the wing that was easily intercepted.

These were two very bad turnovers, and they certainly didn’t help to offset the flaming train-wreck that Miller made of Washington’s half-court defense. Yes, Aaron Brooks is always going to be a tough cover for him, but that will not earn him a pass. Gramps was a traffic cone out there. Any coach other than Randy Wittman might have given Miller’s second-half minutes to Garrett Temple or, you know, a helium balloon with a crude drawing of John Wall’s face on it, weighed down by a Jolly Rancher. And, had this one been closer, Wittman might have made the move himself. Professor Miller fared somewhat better in the second half, and the four assists are something.


Randy Wittman

Docking Wittman some points for looking at the tire fire that was Washington’s second-quarter bench unit, pointing to the only guy on the floor who wasn’t directly involved in converting Chicago’s possessions into a conga line directly to the basket, and cutting that one dude’s second-half minutes down to nothing. Coach does love his veterans! Still, Wittman deserves a ton of credit for Washington having and executing strategies at both ends that exploited what relative weaknesses do exist in Chicago’s blueprint. They made Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and Pau Gasol defend like hell, and they went under perimeter screens and dared Chicago’s ball-handlers to shoot from deep. That second one shouldn’t be taken lightly: Rose, Hinrich, and Butler are capable shooters, but the best version of Chicago’s offense does not have those three guys dribbling into 3-pointers, and as those shots clanged off the rim one by one, the Wizards used defensive rebounds as opportunities to push the ball up the floor.

Asked after the game what the Wizards did differently in the second half to slow down Brooks and Moore, Wittman expressed sarcastic gratitude that the second quarter struggles had been mentioned at all, and then told me to go look at the tape. You big grouch. Even giddy Wittman is a grouch. Alas, he’s our grouch, and he deserves enormous credit for Washington’s thorough outclassing of the Bulls.


 

Turbo Wall.

Panda Bake.

 

Chris Thompson