DC Council Round 2, Game 5: Wizards at Hawks — Enough Culpability to Go Around | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

DC Council Round 2, Game 5: Wizards at Hawks — Enough Culpability to Go Around

Updated: May 15, 2015

Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council:
Grading Wizards players from Second Round Playoff Game No. 5:
Washington Wizards versus the Atlanta Hawks in Georgia
Contributor: Troy Haliburton from the District.

DC-Council-Logo-2With 5:31 left in the fourth quarter of the most pivotal game of the series, the Wizards were in command with a 73-64 lead. And for the second game in a row they wasted possessions, ultimately snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Wizards failed to score over the next four minutes and found themselves scrambling to make enough plays at the end instead of cruising to a win. Of course the overall narrative of this game will be in the details of that final, fatal play (much more on that later). But, the Wiz seemed to have new life with John Wall’s surprising return to action in Game 5, and that could mean that confidence is still high going into Game 6.

For as much as this team banded together as a cohesive unit in Wall’s three-game absence, Wednesday night’s game had a general sense of complacency from the role players that not even the floor general could overcome. The Wizards bench went an abysmal 3-for-20 from the field and were doubled up in point output by the Hawks bench, 18-9. The Wizards went into Game 5 shooting a playoff high 43 percent from 3-point range, but were only able to connect on 4-of-17 shots behind the arc at a rate of 23.5 percent.

Yeah, the Wizards won the turnover battle this game, 19-25, but that differential was still negated by the fact that the Hawks were able to capitalize on less turnovers by outscoring Washington 25-20 on points created off of turnovers. Combine all of that with the fact that the Hawks shot 9-for-11 from the free throw line, while the Wizards shot 11-for-16 from the charity stripe, and you’ll finally have the answer to David Aldridge’s question posed to Al Horford: “How did you win this game?”

This game was not won or lost on that final possession, even though there are many things that the Wizards would love to have back about that fateful eight seconds. If Monday’s game was an encouraging sign or something like a moral victory, then Wednesday’s ending was a certified gut punch that will leave even the most optimistic Wizards fan gasping for air.

Only thing that will console us is some (council) counseling:


Washington Wizards



Box Score

Atlanta Hawks


Nene Hilario, PF

29 MIN | 4-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | -2 +/-

Very fitting that Nene’s evaluation is first in line. Lots of debate on whether Nene was in the right place on the last play, and plenty of people have been willing to come to the big Brazilian’s defense. The fact is that Nene’s box-out assignment was NOT Paul Millsap, and to give him the benefit of the doubt for over-compensating for Paul Pierce being slightly out of position is short-sighted. There is no guarantee that Millsap grabs that rebound in front of Pierce, as they were both off-balance and ultimately ended up on the ground. What is debatable is Nene’s weak-side defensive assignment. There appeared to be back-side screening action that caused Kyle Korver to flare to the corner. There was no subsequent switch as Beal trailed him, leaving Nene in no-man’s land. Only Wizards players and coaches can say whether there was supposed to be a switch there or not (Randy Wittman hates switching, for what it’s worth), but what is known is that Nene’s man when the play started was Al Horford, and by the time Horford was flying over him for the rebound, Nene had completely lost sight of where he was in relation to the play.

Nene’s general aloofness and utter lack of strength or lift on that final possession proved to be detrimental. While Nene has looked more confident and spry in the previous two games, the Wizards are still 34 points better with Porter replacing him around the other regular starters in the playoffs. Simply put, this team needs more from Nene, and while he has shown flashes of the player he once was, his mere presence has been more of a detriment than a positive.

Paul Pierce, SF

35 MIN | 3-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +5 +/-

Paul Pierce could never really find his rhythm in this game until he hit two very critical 3-pointers in the last two minutes to help stave off a ferocious Hawks comeback that should never have been allowed to flourish. Pierce has been one of the Wizards’ most consistent scorers in the post-season, so his poor mark will not be for his lack of scoring punch, but for a failure to impact the game in any other way over 35 minutes of action. The Truth’s lone turnover of the game came at the most critical point with the score tied and 19 seconds left on the clock. Instead of taking a semi-open look behind the arc, Pierce decided to attempt to penetrate into the teeth of the defense in hopes of getting to his sweet spot around the top of the key. Pierce ended up picking up his dribble and attempted to pivot in an already congested lane rather than moving the ball. This mistake allowed Kyle Korver to reach over the top, and slap the ball (i.e., the hand of Pierce), and generate an easy two-on-one fast break opportunity for the Hawks.

Of course, Pierce would redeem himself on the very next possession by hitting an open corner 3, giving the Wizards a one-point lead with eight seconds left. If only the game could have ended there with Pierce yelling “Series” at the Hawkss bench. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Hawks ran their primary action at Pierce by initiating him in the high screen-and-roll at the top of the key. Schroeder had an initial step on Wall, which Pierce saw and immediately bailed toward the rim to help contend, putting him slightly out of position with his man Paul Millsap slipping between he and the basket. Pierce was losing his balance before Horford came in and pummeled the pile like an NFL running back, but so was Millsap. To say that Millsap would have gotten that rebound if it weren’t for Nene’s block out is a bit of an overstatement, but Pierce probably should have been more assertive with his action and not given Nene “truthers” a grand scapegoat opportunity. As clutch as Pierce has been for the Wizards during this playoff run and in the last two minutes of that game, his erratic play was a direct contributor to one of the most painful losses in franchise history.

Marcin Gortat, C

35 MIN | 7-10 FG | 0-1 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | -8 +/-

No one was happier to see John Wall back than Gortat. Offensively, Gortat was active and willing to get in the mix around the basket while Wall force fed him the rock like a new-born baby. Defensively, Gortat was about as putrid as one can be in defending the pick-and-roll action, hence why he was not on the floor on the last possession. Al Horford was able to have his way in the midrange for the second game in the row, and I’ll take a rebound scrum opportunity any day over watching Gortat flailing on a closeout as Horford potentially knocks down a game-winning jumper. Don’t blame Wittman for Gortat not being in the game, blame Gortat.

John Wall, PG

37 MIN | 7-16 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 4 STL | 2 BLK | 6 TO | 15 PTS | -8 +/-

This was about as gritty a performance as you will see from an NBA player. Just 11 days after fracturing his hand/wrist in five places, John Wall was on the floor leading his team to near victory, doing everything within his power, including blocking the potential game-winning layup. Wall had about as much control with his left-handed dribble as you would expect, given the circumstances, and he shot the ball at normal John Wall efficiency levels of 46 percent. Unfortunately, Wall had a team high six turnovers, very few of which can be attributed to his bad hand, but rather an unwillingness to take his time and pick his spots. With a nine point lead in the last six minutes, Wall was not able to mobilize his team, and late in the fourth, he wasn’t able to settle them down as the game got tight.

Bradley Beal, SG

42 MIN | 9-21 FG | 4-5 FT | 7 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 3 BLK | 5 TO | 23 PTS | -1 +/-

Bradley Beal continues to elevate his game to another level that Wizards fans are not used to seeing from the usually timid shooter. Beal’s 21 attempts again led the team, and his defense on Kyle Korver can best be described as stifling. The only thing that separates Beal from transforming into more of a budding superstar is the ability to demand the ball in pressure situations instead of constantly fading to the background and bearing witness to your team blowing a winnable game.

Drew Gooden, PF

12 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -4 +/-

The clock struck midnight, and Drew Gooden turned back into a pumpkin last. He wasn’t in position on defense, got schooled by Mike Muscala, and didn’t hit a shot on Wednesday. That was Gooden’s first playoff game where he did not make a field goal, and probably the worst time to lay a dud, given Washington’s low scoring output. Gooden has been most effective providing the Wizards with a stretch-4 who is supposed to allow his team proper floor space to operate, except Gooden decided he didn’t like 3s anymore and reverted back to long-two attempts, a Wittmanball staple.

Otto Porter Jr., SF

33 MIN | 3-13 FG | 3-5 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | +6 +/-

Otto was aggressive, which is great to see from the youngster, but you have to know when your shot is not falling that you can attempt to create for others. Zero assists is unacceptable for a wing who played 33 minutes and has the ball in his hands a fair amount. Porter’s defense was again exceptional, and his rebounding outstanding. The poor shooting is all part of the growing pains for young players in search of  confidence (and he was mugged countless times under the basket without receiving the benefit of a foul call). As long as Otto continues with the #MaximumEffort, we take the bad with the good.

Ramon Sessions, PG

17 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +7 +/-

Dish the rock, make a layup, or get to the free throw line. Do something. Sessions needed to give the Wizards something, hell, anything while Wall was out of the game. He failed to do so, and because of it the Wizards have to be leery of turning the keys over to him again in an elimination situation on Friday. But who else do they have? Will Bynum? Garrett Temple? Sessions better step up.

Randy Wittman

For the most part Wittman coached a decent game, but all it takes is one or two mistakes to ruin a season. The Wizards had four timeouts and a nine point lead with less than six minutes to go, yet ended the game with a half court heave because there was no timeout left to advance the ball. Wittman called timeouts to help stop the bleeding of the Hawks final run, only to have those plays out of timeouts end up in turnovers and blocked shots respectively. The lack of pure imagination in the fourth quarter offense ended up costing the Wizards a game they had little business losing. Wittman allowed the Wizards to play lackadaisical in the final six minutes leading to an overall “prevent defense” type of attitude.

In the first round series against Toronto, Wittman received high-praise for his adjustments that saw Paul Pierce move into the 4 spot and propel this team to a first round sweep. All credit to Wittman for that, but at the very least that plan was in the works for a while, and it appears that Pierce may have had just as much impact on that long-con scheme as Witt. Where Wittman has failed is his inability to make the strategic in-game adjustment, whether it be schematically or in the player rotation. The Wizards have a major size advantage, yet the last two games have not seen any advantage in points in the paint and rebounding. Witt has made basically no adjustments to remedy this, and it should be duly noted. His coaching counterpart Mike Budenholzer has made adjustment after adjustment, leaving no player’s spot in the rotation safe. Atlanta’s Mike Scott was a rotation main-stay during the regular season and now he can’t sniff the court because Budenholzer was willing to roll the dice on Muscala, and it has paid dividends.

On Wednesday nigh, Coach Bud benched All-Star Jeff Teague in the final minutes because Schroeder had been outplaying him. Budenholzer switched DeMarre Carroll on to John Wall in the fourth quarter, making John have to work that much harder just to get the ball into the front-court. When it comes to in-game adjustments, Budenholzer is running circles around Wittman, and that is proving to be just as costly as anything taking laces inside the white lines. Wittman has failed to display the off-the-cuff creativity that championship level coaches need. Hell, we can’t even get him to play the Wizards most consistent regular season bench player at all. Rasual Butler who is arguably the Wizards third best shooter has not had any role whatsoever in the post-season. I’m not saying that these guys are the saviors of the franchise, but the fact that Wittman has failed to initiate any sort of change is alarming. (Kris Humphries is also available, I am told.) Hopefully some light bulb will go off in the coach’s head before the Game 6 tip, or we might be realizing that the real long-con was Wittman making us all believe for a good two weeks that he was the one playing chess, not checkers.


Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.