Key Legislature: Wizards 101 vs Hawks 106 — Beal and Pierce Almost Match Atlanta’s Best Shot | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 101 vs Hawks 106 — Beal and Pierce Almost Match Atlanta’s Best Shot

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Updated: May 12, 2015

Truth About It.net’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s)
for Washington Wizards second round playoff contest No. 4 versus the Atlanta Hawks in D.C.
via Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks) from the Verizon Center.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Conor Dirks.

“Sometimes you make, sometimes you miss,” said Paul Pierce after the game.

Pierce claims his name. “Truth.” But he’s never claimed to be more than human. A king (in the North), maybe. But not perfect. According to Pierce, he wouldn’t have been drafted in today’s NBA, where stars appear increasingly immortal. Through just under four quarters in Game 4, though, and throughout Washington’s 6-1 playoff run before this game, Pierce seemed like far more than the sum of any mortal man’s genetic code.

With the Wizards down 104-101 and the game clock cruelly projecting a meager nine seconds, Nene set a hard screen on DeMarre Carroll on an inbounds play. When his hip suddenly jarred out of orbit, Carroll went down, leaving Pierce (5-for-7 on 3s) incredibly open, maybe too open, beyond the 3-point line. Three points down, 3-pointer up. As the ball left Pierce’s hands, Carroll dove desperately at Pierce’s feet as if in supplication to a shot that was almost assuredly headed for legend and permanent residence in the otherwise fickle frontal lobe of D.C. sports consciousness. Everyone agreed that this was the right shot, for the right guy, at the right time.

“It was going in,” laughed Will Bynum, after the game.

“I thought it was going in,” echoed Bradley Beal, hunched over in an increasingly familiar spot at the podium.

Kyle Korver admitted he thought the teams were headed for overtime, too. “I wasn’t thinking good thoughts,” Korver said. His teammate Kent Bazemore agreed.

This is how voracious an earworm Paul Pierce’s trash talk has become. It’s more than fear in the face of overwhelming confidence. When Korver says he wasn’t thinking good thoughts, what he is describing is DREAD. Dread in the most gravelly, indigestible sense. The dread that Toronto felt after Pierce lured the entire city’s heart and soul into a meat factory with a few well-placed words before the series, and then shoved them through the grinder in four straight games. If Pierce could defy time, double-teams, and pressure on countless occasions, there was no way he was missing a wide-open shot to send Game 4 into overtime, at home.

But the shot missed.

Pierce’s glee in ruining his opponents’ day is ingratiating to D.C. fans that love a player who has already proven more than he ever needed to in a Wizards uniform, creating memeworthy one-liners faster than Twitter can keep up with them and helping Washington to its best season in decades at the age of 37. Those watching wanted that shot to fall as much for Pierce as they did for themselves. Zero sum acts of heroism that raze the psyche of entire communities while uplifting others is Paul Pierce, and doesn’t he deserve to keep doing it until he washes up on the sunny shores of retirement?

But the shot missed. We’ve been proceeding here as if this miss was the key moment of the game because it was. Still, countless trivialities, course of business turnovers, and two untimely performances from key contributors all conspired to bring the Wizards to the bottom of the cliff that Pierce’s shot tried so hard to climb.

Chief among them was Washington’s inability to get Marcin Gortat rolling to the basket. Both Randy Wittman and Pierce commented that the team bore some responsibility in aiming the Polish Hammer at the cup, be it on pick-and-roll plays or otherwise. Gortat had one of his worst games of the season (3 points on 1-for-7 shooting), but more concerning than his inability to convert on a variety of putbacks, short shots, and layups was how often Al Horford was wide-open in the middle of the court.

Maybe, just maybe, those shots were what Washington’s defense was giving, but even if that was the case, the allowance confused Gortat enough that he fell victim to standing in no-man’s land, missing a few chances to contest layups because the Hawks were able to find players cutting behind him. Gortat’s rim protection numbers were still the best among Washington bigs (opponents shot just 42.9% when Gortat was able to contest the shot), but overall, this was a fatal performance, one that if retroactively amended would have reshaped the game in the Wizards’ favor.

Otto Porter, too, picked a bad day to curtail his assault on the playoffs. The only shots he took were four 3-pointers, and he only made one of them. For a player whose best looks still come as a result of off-ball cuts to the basket, it’s hard to tell whether Otto’s stall-out is more a product of his own making, or if Washington’s newly-conscripted point guards simply couldn’t take advantage of Porter’s strengths in the same way that the injured John Wall always can (with Porter and any other player on Earth). Porter still contributed in other ways, switching maniacally between offensive threats and pulling down grown man rebounds despite his resemblance to a weeping willow, but the Wizards need far more from Otto now that they’re without Wall.

Through three games, there was a sense that the Wizards had yet to get Atlanta’s best shot. This looked like Atlanta’s best shot. The good looks finally fell, some would say. And the Wizards hung around nonetheless. Despite uncharacteristically awful defense in the first half that led to 32 points in the paint (compared to 16 for Washington), a kind of scoring the Wizards usually don’t allow (Washington held opponents to just 38.3 points in the paint per game during the regular season, best in the NBA); despite the absence of Wall, the leader of the team and its best player, best playmaker, and most integral piece; and despite the above-mentioned performances from the likes of Gortat and Porter, as well as a completely lopsided, overrated performance from turnover and blown coverage machine Will Bynum. With all of that working against the Wizards, how did they stay in it?

Bradley Beal. The 21-year-old has been justifiably criticized this year for a number of things, foremost among them his unwillingness or inability to use his obvious strength and speed to get to the basket and his unwillingness or inability to find more opportunities to use his most deadly skill: the 3-point shot. Beal answered all of those criticisms and more in Game 4, scoring a career playoff-high 34 points and punishing Atlanta defenders no matter what they did.

Pushing the ball after an Atlanta miss, Beal suddenly drew back when he reached the 3-point line, dribbling the ball behind his back while keeping his eyes up. His previous speed in pushing the ball was enough to scare Korver and Carroll off from guarding him close, and both defenders sagged off as he surveyed the floor. Beal didn’t hesitate and stepped into an unassisted 3-pointer, something he absolutely has to develop as he becomes more and more of a primary option to complement his immaculate catch-and-shoot deep ball.

On other occasions, Atlanta defenders came out to meet Beal, and he responded by driving hard at the basket. It resulted in nine free throws and five buckets (on 10 attempts) at the rim. Add six rebounds and seven assists (all of which came in the first half), and you’ve got yourself what might eventually be considered a vintage Beal game, but can’t yet due to his precocity. But what made Beal’s performance so impressive, and cemented it among the very best, if not the best, he’s ever played in a Wizards uniform, was his unrelenting defense on Korver, who only managed four shots all game. The Wizards have figured out that they can slow down the Hawks by taking Korver out of the picture, but the defensive game plan does not work unless a Wizards player stays glued to Korver throughout his floor time. Within the spritely currents of the Hawks ball movement and bone-tiring screen-heavy offense, staying with Korver is like trying to put a pin through a butterfly at the epicenter of an earthquake. And Beal’s done it for four straight games.

After the game, Beal tried to stay “humble and hungry,” but a few too many times you could see a smile flash across his otherwise noncommittal visage. He’s enjoying this, and he should. I’m sure that his teammates, and his coach, have told him that he needs to do more in Wall’s absence. “I have to grow up,” Beal said, describing the burdens that come with oversight of duties that used to belong to Wall, and deal with the constant double teams that come with the territory.  Beal admitted that he’s not there yet, not quite able to thread the needle like Wall, or make the right decisions mid-air.

The Wizards aren’t dead yet, despite everything that’s happened. This new style of play provides new avenues for survival, and benefits from individual brilliance instead of relying on it. But without Wall, it’s clear that the Wizards need a more perfect union than the one they got in Game 4. They can’t afford a 65-point half on defense, or an off-game from Gortat. They need everyone they have left to do more than they’ve been asked to do all season. The Wizards have at least two more games to show that what they still have is enough.

Paul-Pierce-Picedit

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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.