Key Legislature: Wizards 81 at Hawks 82 — All Out of Miracles | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 81 at Hawks 82 — All Out of Miracles

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Updated: May 14, 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. 5 versus the Hawks in Philips Arena.
via Sean Fagan (@McCarrick) from Brooklyntown, U.S.A.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Sean Fagan.

If this were a normal clichéd sports movie, then the Washington Wizards’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks broke all the conventions of the drama. The Wizards had garnered all the sympathy of mainstream public entering Game 4 of their second-round series, having seemingly lost their All-Star point guard, John Wall, to a horrifying injury that saw him break his hand/wrist in no less than five places. It was at this point that many supporters threw up their own hands in despair, cursed the basketball gods, and hoped that Wall would sufficiently recover by next season. A dominating win in Game 3 (and a few Paul Pierce throwback performances) was enough to sate fans with the fact that the Wizards were not going to roll over, but a successful series against Atlanta without Wall was an almost impossible reality to picture.

When the Twitter-verse began rumbling on Wednesday about John Wall possibly returning for Game 5 of the series, it was met with both concern and worry. After the bizarre series of events surrounding Wall’s injury (the purported “clash” with medical staff, Randy Wittman losing his mind on a reporter who had been covering the team for more than a decade), a miraculous return was met with less than enthusiasm and more with trepidation. The Wizards, after all, have a history of superstar players returning from injury sooner than expected (Gilbert Arenas), only to crash under the weight of both fans’ and their own expectations. How was a man with a broken hand going to run the point in an NBA playoff game? Would one of Wall’s patented crashes to the floor result in his hand detaching and flying from his body?

For once Wizards fans need not have feared because Wall was sublime. Content to distribute early, Wall showed the vision from the point that Wizards had desperately been lacking and then kicked it into another gear toward the end of the first quarter before dominating large portions of the second. There were two drives to the baskets for layups, one converted with the broken left hand. There were the pinpoint passes that transformed Marcin Gortat from bystander to pick-and-roll monster. When the dust settled at the half, the Wizards held a six-point lead (47-41) and all the momentum.

The triumphant return of Wall looked to be nearly complete with 5:31 left in the fourth quarter and the Wizards up by nine points. Having survived another run by the Hawks, the Wizards had extended their lead on the backs of Otto Porter and Bradley Beal. It would have been nice at this point to be able to turn off the television with the last image of John Wall with his warmups on, joking with Garrett Temple and accepting the congratulations of his teammates. This is how sports movies are supposed to end, with the hero overcoming adversity on their way to triumph.

Alas, it was not to be.

While Wall’s return was the defining narrative of the game (and may still be the defining narrative of the series), it was the coaching of the Ol’ Possum King Randy Wittman that ultimately proved the Wizards undoing in the fourth quarter. Instead of the Wizards new-fangled offense springing too many leaks (the Wizards did go more than four minutes without scoring in the fourth quarter and 3-point attempts were down to their regular-season average), it was on the defensive end that the Wizards started to sag and falter. More specifically, the Hawks offense started to exploit weakest chain in the link, Nene. Peculiar from the norm, as Nene has traditionally been the tail of Washington’s team defense if Wall has been the head of the snake.

That Nene has had trouble dealing with the frontline of Paul Millsap and Al Horford this series is not an understatement. Nene has often looked a step slow, especially against the smaller and quicker but still quite strong Millsap, and has spent most of the series closing out a step late on Horford (whose midrange has given the Wizards fits) or involved in various imbroglios with Millsap in the post. Nene’s patented sneer (and referee baiting) is still at an All-Star level, but his 29 minutes of time on the floor were a study in how past performance isn’t likely a predictor of the present.

Which brings us to the Possum King and how he failed to adjust. Wittman has earned laudatory pixels for going small in the playoffs and finally utilizing Pierce and Porter offensively to stretch defenses and de-clog the lanes that Wall and Beal need to facilitate the offense. The downside of this plan has been that Pierce has struggled to contain his man (Millsap or DeMarre Carroll) on the defensive end, leaving either Nene or Gortat with the yeoman’s work of compensating for Pierce. Gortat has at times looked up to the role (though he failed to contain the Horford mini-explosion in Game 5), while Nene has has done little to stop the Hawks from feasting on the boards. During the game, Wittman smartly pivoted away from an ice-cold Drew Gooden, but his solution to Gooden’s ineffectiveness was to double down on a player (Nene) who still has yet to prove that he is operating at anything near optimal level.  You can either credit Wittman with sticking to his small lineup and his shortened bench, but one has to question whether the insertion of Kris Humphries (or god help us, a spry Kevin Seraphin) would have given the Wizards a bit more vitality in the earlier portions of the game, or helped contain Horford more effectively as he stretched the defense thin.

Having lost their lead, the Wizards once again went to their magic bullet and Paul Pierce once again delivered another miracle 3-point bomb to put the Wizards up by one with eight seconds remaining. That Pierce continues to do this has gone past the point of amazing and has now fully entered into the realm of ludicrous. Despite Pierce’s heroics, the Wizards promptly broke down on the defensive end, with Horford bum-rushing Nene to snatch a rebound out of his hands and score a layup (leaving the Brazilian in a heap on the floor) and sealing the game with 1.9 seconds left (the Wizards were also out of timeouts).

The Hawks won the game 82-81 but the more telling narrative is that the Wizards used two of their magic beans and were unable to secure the win. The return of John Wall at 97 percent effectiveness, and another Paul Pierce dagger shot should have been enough to put the Hawks away, but instead it is the Wizards leaving Atlanta wondering if they just spent their last lucky penny. Wittman has a day to try and patch the leaks on defense and force a Game 7 against a Hawks team that has yet to play to its ability. It will be interesting to see if the Possum King has any more tricks, or whether he will just play dead.

nene (1)

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Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.