Key Legislature: Wizards 108 vs Hawks 99 — Victory in the Time Allotted | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 108 vs Hawks 99 — Victory in the Time Allotted

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Updated: April 13, 2015

Truth About It.net’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s)
for Washington Wizards contest No. 80 versus the Hawks in D.C. 
via Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks) from the Verizon Center.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Conor Dirks.

For the first four minutes of the eightieth game of a season finally winding down before evolving into something louder and more important, two teams of varying quality engaged in almost reluctant competition. The Wizards, by way of their more generous offering of available talent on the night, seemed more suited for the task of winning, as the Hawks sat all five of their usual starters. But certain things must still happen to speed progress towards that end.

Outside of a corner 3-point jump shot by John Wall to open Washington’s scoring, the Wizards missed fast and many. From up close (Marcin Gortat missed two shots from within three feet, Nene missed another), from mid-range (Bradley Beal missed from 18-feet, Nene missed from 21), and from afar (Beal and Paul Pierce both missed 3-point shots on Washington’s first possession). The fuzzy lining of a Sunday dusk chipped away, but inside the arena, it felt more like another of those traditionally uneasy weekend mornings that so plague teams with more excuses than solutions. But, that didn’t last long. After the Wizards tied the game at five points apiece on a wide-open 19-foot jumper by Nene at the 8:06 mark of the first, points jumped onto the board.

Like a rhythm suddenly rediscovered, Wall meted out an assist to Paul Pierce for a 3-pointer. Then, in one of the few instances when the shot can be justified with full approval, Wall came open from beyond the free throw line, square as can be to the basket. He took a step forward, then a quick second step, and still no one challenged a shot he sank with a sureness that belied prior inconsistencies.

When the Hawks pulled close to even at 9-10, an unlikely assault of 3-pointers (two from Pierce, and one from Beal) matched Atlanta’s work to date (9 points) in less than one minute. It continued like this throughout the first quarter: the 3-pointers slowly coaxed the Hawks to the perimeter whereupon the paint loosened and thinned. A defense reaching for one thing forgets another, and Wall took advantage of the sudden absence of interior memory, diving at the basket. And when, like an immune system adjusting a new threat, the Hawks defense attempted to compensate for that, Wall found Gortat on back-to-back plays. That partnership, if maintained or, better, encouraged, could unlock a door to the second round of this year’s playoffs.

That was the first quarter. From that point on, slowly, the Wizards uncoiled. Not like a snake but like a ball of string. Luckily, the game ended far short of the spool.

First quarter: 38 points. Second quarter: 28 points. Third quarter: 24 points. Fourth quarter: 18 points. The story is familiar. Had the Hawks been an actual team, rather than a purposefully arranged front of NBA-caliber bench players, there may have been an actual result.

It may be the case that the Wizards’ lassitude was more a product of prematurely acknowledging an assured victory. Only that victory wasn’t really assured, and it never is. When the playoffs begin and the competition is more than perfunctory, this lesson that has gone unlearned all season will almost surely manifest. Still, as we’ve often been reminded, this is the best Wizards or Bullets season since 1979.

“Progress is not an illusion,” George Orwell wrote, “it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.” The seeming torpor of barely noticeable progress can often feel just as disappointing as hearing the criticism that accompanies it. But the Wizards have indeed improved this year. It’s less clear what, or who, but they have. Wall, surely. Anyone else?

Even Wall has too often been unable to replicate what makes his team successful in a game that is all about replicating what works—over the course of 82 games and into a potentially lengthy postseason run. The pick-and-rolls with Gortat are beautiful when they finally happen: Gortat is one of the best screen-setters in the league, one of the best finishers at the rim in the league, and one of the only centers durable and agile enough to keep up with Wall on a game-to-game basis. Even so, quarters and even games will pass without the two showing the kind of chemistry inherent in the pairing.

Again, it is worth remembering that this is the best Wizards team of many fans’ lifetimes. Click. Wow. Many other NBA teams have been better over the years, and many are better this year. That only matters insomuch as the Wizards are bound by it. When they face the Bulls or the Raptors in the coming weeks, they will be free to ignore their less favorable tendencies. On more occasions than the most cynical among us would readily admit, the Wizards have gotten hot from mid-range, played the kind of conservative, playoff-style defense they’re capable of playing, and have somehow won in spite of the categorically ancient offense that, for whatever eldritch reason, eschews 3-pointers and fancy free throws.

Eleven (11) 3-point attempts after the first quarter, seven makes, and 38 points on the board. In the second quarter, as if all it took was a few moments alone with Randy Wittman, the Wizards went a different direction. One 3-point attempt, but 28 points, and everything still going quite well as Nene, Wall, Otto Porter, and Ramon Sessions all shot 50 percent or better.

The narrative is not quite as tidy as more 3s begetting more points. In the third quarter the Wizards shot 37.5 percent, took eight 3-pointers, 13 shots at the rim, took three mid-range shots, and only scored 24 points. In the fourth quarter, the team’s worst (18 points), the Wizards took and missed only one 3-pointer, just as in the second quarter.

It’s not so much that the team should all of a sudden abandon its rustic approach. That, now, would probably be counter-productive. A shift in degree could be helpful, but that’s not what I’m here to say! The team’s style caromed back and forth from respectable to maddening, and Wall’s 10 turnovers, some the product of the Hawks defense and some the product of something else entirely (even Mike Budenholzer wouldn’t give his team credit for the high number), were a fitting symbol for a plan of attack that was recklessly unsure of itself. Beating the Bulls or the Raptors means being far more consistent, in whatever way seems likely to be sustained.

Late in the fourth, the sonorous echoes of Chik-Fil-A celebrants turned into queasy discomfort at a suddenly single digit lead (Atlanta, down 106-97 with 1:08 left, missed two free throws but got the offensive rebound and a 3-point attempt, and missed). The Verizon Center shifted again to relief a minute later when the clock ended any final run the Hawks may have otherwise been able to make. In future seasons, when broadcasters look back, it will count as a win against a superior opponent. The reality is less charitable, but it’s not a reality that matters beyond this coming week. Just like last year.

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.