Key Legislature: Wizards 101 vs Pacers 103 — Washington's Normalized Narrative | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 101 vs Pacers 103 — Washington’s Normalized Narrative

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Updated: March 26, 2015

Truth About It.net’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s)
for Washington Wizards contest No. 72 versus the Pacers in D.C.
via Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It), covering it live from the Phone Booth.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Kyle Weidie.

John Wall tried to make the game narrative his own. It’s happened before, it will happen again. It served as a reminder, especially after Bradley Beal rolled his ankle toward the end of the first quarter and departed for the night, that Wall is about all the magic the Wizards have.

Two puttering offenses (Washington’s ranks 16th, Indiana’s 25th), two very good defenses that rarely screw up the rotation, a half-dead arena-library, and a single player capable of taking over a game. For just showing up to work, the Wizards built a 13-point lead on the back of damn near 45 percent shooting with five minutes left in the first half; Indiana shot 28 percent up to that point. Through 19 game minutes, the score was 37-24, a count that would make a half in college basketball super proud of itself.

The Wizards spent the last five minutes of the first half losing their lead, stalling the offense by trying to force-feed Nene, who has proven incapable of (or disinterested in) finishing near the rim as of late. Indiana’s George Hill helped spark a quick 5-0 run by easily gaining separation off the ball from Martell Webster (who, as usual, was bad on defense through the end) and driving into the heart of Washington’s defense, Nene included. C.J. Watson then stole Nene’s inbounds pass (Indiana pressing wasn’t new at that point of the game) and hit a 3-pointer, pulling the Pacers within 33-39. Randy Wittman’s offense managed to get off six shot attempts, making one (with two turnovers) over the last five minutes of the second quarter. The Pacers got off 13 shots, making seven (with zero turnovers), also grabbing three offensive boards when Washington didn’t grab any.

The Wizards limped into halftime with a two-point lead, 44-42, and after what must have been negligible impassioned pleas from their coach during intermission, they limped right back onto the court. The Pacers grabbed a four-point lead within two minutes of the third quarter. Over the first half of the period John Wall missed three attempts at the rim and made one. The game trudged along. Wittman called a timeout with the score tied at 58, after which the Wizards immediately gave up a 3-pointer. Webster, starting the second half for the injured Beal, chased C.J. Miles around screens with all the agility of a young Forrest Gump in his leg braces; Miles found himself with more than enough room to hit the shot.

Not long after that, John Wall decided: Why not? He got a rebound and pushed the ball up the court as four Pacers quickly retreated. Teammates weren’t really to be found. Paul Pierce operated at a crawl on the other side of the floor. So Wall dribbled the ball to the left corner and fired. The Pacers gave it to him and the Wizards needed it, a 3-pointer. About 30 seconds later Wall stole the ball and flew to the other end for an uncontested dunk. The Verizon Center reacted with the enthusiasm, or relief, like they’d just been told someone would pay their phone bill. Wall prompted his team to end the last four minutes of the third quarter on a 16-8 run. He scored eight points and added three assists, two rebounds, a steal, and a block during that time.

The fourth quarter started and Wall’s engine was still running on that premium unleaded (with the exception of between-quarter rest; he was subbed out with 45 seconds left in the third, subbed back in 60 seconds into the fourth). Over the next five minutes until the Pacers called a timeout midway through the period, what Wall has become—someone with more cultivated confidence in his jumper than mechanized muscle memory—was on full display. He hit four straight jump shot attempts, from 17, 18, 19, and 20 feet. He also made a layup, missed a layup (on which he probably got fouled, no call), and got to the free throw line for two makes. Only one other Wizard scored during this 14-7 Washington run: Ramon Sessions, who darted aggressively up the court off a Kevin Seraphin rebound and scored a layup. (Wall and Sessions, for what it’s worth, played 12 minutes together to a fair amount of success: plus-5 and 9-for-18 team shooting.)

The Wizards were up 90-80, all seemed normal—a team with the same pre-existing roster issues, the same pre-existing coaching system, being saved by the star. Happens in the NBA all the time.

The Pacers went on to outscore the Wizards 23-11 over the latter half of the fourth. While Indiana coach Frank Vogel inserted reinforcements, namely Hill and David West, Wittman left a lineup featuring Wall, Sessions, Rasual Butler, Drew Gooden, and Seraphin to marinate. Indiana climbed within six points, Webster was inserted for Sessions. Soon after, at the 4:30 mark, Nene was inserted for Gooden; Marcin Gortat came in for Seraphin 30 seconds later. Was Wittman trying to stop the bleeding? Trying to avoid putting old and tired horses back on the track? Grasping for straws as it appeared, even to a dead arena, that a Pacers comeback was inevitable? All of the above, probably, at 91-94. On the next possession an Indiana double-team of Nene in the post almost didn’t let Webster clear the floor, and as Nene moved the ball to Martell after space opened, Webster committed a bad turnover himself and Hill scored a layup on the other end, Pacers within one point.

Wittman called timeout, dusted off Paul Pierce for Webster, and drew up a play … in which Butler immediately committed another turnover. The Pacers grabbed the lead, 95-94. Washington seemed to put faith in meandering offensive action for anyone not named John Wall. And so Gortat missed a 20-footer (he had to take it as a very last option in a piddling offense), Nene then missed a 19-footer (a shot he didn’t have to take), and then Nene and his cohorts left West available to consider the spacing and drive the lane unimpeded for a floater that put Indiana up three points, 99-96. A Butler 3-point miss led to a Gortat block of Hill at the rim that led to a fast break opportunity for Butler in which he missed an easy opportunity but converted the resulting two free throws, which were matched on the other end by Indiana.

With 19 seconds left and down three, the Wizards took a timeout and drew up a play that never materialized—bad execution, bad planning perhaps, and as precious seconds ticked, Wall, prior hero, pulled a 3-pointer from Gilbert Arenas range, awakening the Verizon Center (aside from previous free chicken alarms). He tied the game at 101 with 11 seconds left. That was Washington’s first and only field goal in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter.

A dreaded overtime situation loomed, but saved from that grace, Wizards followers, into the night and the next day, were left to dissect one single play in which the game presumably “boiled down to” leaving, conveniently, ignorance of all the other issues that led to the moment.

What we think we know: Wall, with five fouls, volunteered to guard C.J. Watson off the ball instead of Hill; Gortat, against Indiana’s smaller lineup, was relegated to the pine so Otto Porter could guard the inbounds pass; and Webster, perhaps Washington’s worst perimeter wing defender (perhaps absolutely) was left to check Hill, who’d generally had his way with the Wizards over the game-deciding stretch.

West went to set a high ball screen for Hill but didn’t really set it, as part of Indiana’s plan. Nene and Webster were supposed to trap the ball, and it was hard viewing the play over-and-over to tell who was more out of position. The safe conclusion is that they both were, and at that, Nene just about ran into Webster in the process. Hill scored the game-winner at the rim and the Wizards, sans timeouts with two-plus seconds left (Wittman burned his last three timeouts in the three minutes prior), were resigned to a desperate Butler half-court heave. Wittman, already in the process of leaving the court, barely took time to glance as the shot caromed off the top of the backboard.

Mere details about a team entrenched with an inattention to detail, or effort, or whatever they want to point to which ails them. The narrative, semi-tragically, was ripped from John Wall. Maybe the star needs to be a bit more of a star. What other choice do the Wizards have? Wittman charged after the match that others need to step up, and he would also be correct. Pierce took four shots, made one, and combined with Sessions (1-5), Webster (1-6), and Butler (3-6) to bring Washington’s wing contribution (not named Wall or Beal) to a 6-for-15 effort from the field. Nene finished 3-for-8 from the field but 100-for-100 in bitching about all the wrongs constantly done against him to anyone except the media, which he ducked after the game so he could get pictures taken with the visiting Argentinian soccer club—the conveniences afforded to him in being the highest paid yet most unaccountable player on the team.

Just one loss—No. 32 out of 72 games so far. At least it felt relatively normal, even if normal for the Wizards remains relatively undefined. Their best normal can compete with anyone, but Washington’s current comfort lies somewhere below that, and deep down Wittman, and Nene, and Beal, and even Wall, and any other Wizard that matters (they all do) must be concerned about that becoming a habit when it matters.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.