Key Legislature: Wizards 90 at Hawks 106 — Wizards Call and Raise Hawks' Internal Victory | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 90 at Hawks 106 — Wizards Call and Raise Hawks’ Internal Victory

Updated: May 6, 2015

Truth About’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s)
for Washington Wizards second-round playoff contest No. 2 versus the Atlanta Hawks in Georgia.
via Chris ‘Thompson’ (@MadBastardsAll) from Virginia, which is definitively for lovers.

[via @WashWizards]

[via @WashWizards]

DC Council Key Legislature

by Chris Thompson.

So, right off the bat, if you’re looking for the big defining moment of Tuesday night’s Game 2 loss in Atlanta, it happened an hour before tip-off. This isn’t some clever reimagining of the game—the Wizards with John Wall are better than the Wizards without John Wall to a degree that dwarfs similar comparisons for all but a very small handful of players in the entire NBA. And, anyway, look: When you take a core player out of the lineup of a fifth seed in a game against a first seed (and on the first seed’s home court), the fifth seed should be expected to lose, and lose badly.

It’s funny what happens when you proceed with clarity from the position that the Wizards were expected to lose, and lose badly: instead of finding, among the big moments and tidal shifts and all the big and small details of the game, moments that defined why the Wizards lost, you instead find moments that defined why, exactly, they should not have been expected to win, and why, for that matter, they didn’t lose as badly as we feared.

We’ll start with the former. The Wizards, without John Wall, should be expected to lose to the Hawks for a few of the same old reasons: he’s the best and only real playmaker on a roster with a well-established deficiency in that key area; no one else on the roster and few across the NBA can athletically overwhelm the opposition quite like Wall can; and he’s far and away the team’s most disruptive perimeter defender.

Then there are other, newer challenges. Wall’s prowess as a pick-and-roll ball-handler has supercharged Washington’s newly deployed small-ball lineups, and last night’s game provided a fairly stark example of what those lineups lack without a strong primary ball-handler. And Wall’s furious, enveloping on-ball defense helps limit the dribble-penetration that is crucial to Atlanta’s offense—without him, the team’s next best weapon against penetration has historically been Nene. Wall’s absence makes Nene harder to replace, which is a terrible problem to have now that Nene has turned into a statue of Nene climbing Mt. Everest, with a boulder on his back, in cinderblock shoes.

All of that is to say the Wizards rely heavily upon Wall’s two-way brilliance, which is not news. They were supposed to lose badly, and they did……..n’t?

The final margin was 16 points, and that’s significant, but the Wizards were surprisingly competitive for most of the night. The final score suggests a one-sided game, but Atlanta did not have an easy time disposing of the Wizards, and, in the end, it actually took a series of out-of-character defensive breakdowns and some questionable foul trouble (most notably, Marcin Gortat fouled out with over four minutes remaining) for the Hawks to pull away. Which begs the question: Just how the hell did Washington stay in this game?

Well, for starters, Ramon Sessions had a fairly huge game. He wasn’t (and never will be) the distributor that Wall is, but he scored efficiently, and, a few ill-advised pull-up jumpers aside, played responsibly with the ball—all but three of his 14 shot attempts came from either the paint or beyond the arc. And his point-of-attack defense on Jeff Teague was impressive—he closed out under control, stayed put on Teague’s pump fakes, and reliably steered his counterpart into help, which is not an easy thing to do against as dangerous a ball-handler as Jeff Teague.

Beyond Sessions, and maybe somewhat unexpectedly, the Wizards got about what they’ve been getting from Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce. Beal shot poorly from the floor, and reverted to Bad Midrange Panda form on too many of the possessions in which he wasn’t in Bad Isolation Ball-Handler Panda form, but otherwise moved the ball well and made big, athletic plays in a few key spots. And Pierce’s scorching hot 3-point shooting (5-for-8) kept the Wizards hanging around during stretches of the game in which Atlanta’s breakaway surge seemed imminent. For those expecting Wall’s absence to mean a player-for-player drop-off in raw production, that Beal and Pierce mostly did their thing has to rate as a pleasant surprise.

And, perhaps most encouragingly, Yung Playoff Hero Otto Porter—whose season-long and even young-career-long production has seemed closely tied to the distribution of his minutes alongside John Wall—had another strong, promising outing. As he has throughout the playoffs, he scored efficiently from all areas, helped out hugely on the glass, moved usefully when away from the ball, and played pesky, disruptive defense. Tuesday night he even flashed some genuine and much-needed aggression, pushing the ball up the floor off of rebounds and steals, looking for his shot in the half-court, and even daring to do some ball-handling against tight defense. If this was another sign of positive development, it was a great one.

#WizardsTwitter certainly had the idea that those four players were largely responsible for whatever big plays kept the Wizards competitive in Game 2, and it’s tempting, therefore, to point to the other five Wizards who played as those responsible for the loss, but, look: as we’ve covered already, the Wizards were going to lose this game. It would be unfair to blame much of this loss on anyone or anything beyond John Wall’s frighteningly swollen left wrist.

On the other hand, it would be impossible to describe the actual game without mentioning Nene, who was awful. Singularly awful. Disturbingly, distressingly awful. Awful in a way and to such a degree that many of those watching were moved to wonder whether a better return on Nene’s allotted minutes might be gained by giving them to someone else. Anyone else. I’m talking about anyone else, here. If you are expanding the concept beyond the regular rotation, beyond the active roster, beyond even the arena, if you are imagining a circle expanding by orders of magnitude until it eventually includes our entire solar system and every living thing in it, if you want to go ahead and use time as a fourth dimension and consider everyone ever and everyone to come between the Big Bang and the eventual cold death of the universe, yes, now you’re getting the idea.

To say it has been a rough post-season for the Big Brazilian would certainly be an understatement, but—maybe just by virtue of the fact that his team was, finally, and for the first time in these playoffs, unable to overcome (among other things) his struggles—things seemed to hit their nadir Tuesday night. Every movement seemed a massive task, suggesting the man’s body is exhausted and worn out. He had nothing—he had less than nothing—to offer at the offensive end (missing bunnies and Js alike), and his defense in the pick-and-roll and away from the ball was, maybe for the first time ever, genuinely bad. He led the team in turnovers, committed a needless and horribly-timed offensive foul during a late Wizards run, was routinely beaten on the glass, and in all other ways worked better for the benefit of the opponent than that of his own team. His performance was disastrous, and most if not all of it seemed to stem from his usual agility and toughness just vanishing into thin air. The man looks dead-tired out there.

Overcoming Wall’s absence was the primary challenge, but the Wizards have been working overtime to overcome Nene’s sad cratering throughout these playoffs, and the burden now falls to Randy Wittman to orchestrate some kind of relief. It is apparent that Nene should not be playing big minutes these days. For that matter, he hasn’t been playing big minutes. But it is achingly obvious that almost all other combinations of available Wizards big men—and certainly combinations with Drew Gooden at 4 or Paul Pierce as a nominal “big”—are preferable to virtually any combination that includes Nene.

So while the defining moment of Tuesday night’s loss came the moment John Wall was deactivated, the two major takeaways are as follows: the Wizards can still play with the Atlanta Hawks, in Atlanta, without their best player; and, whether attributable to an unfavorable matchup or not, Nene’s recent swoon is a thing to take seriously. Thankfully, these takeaways are not significant in equal measure: the team has thus far survived Nene’s struggles when otherwise healthy, and other available lineups present excellent and proven alternatives, while the team’s credible play Tuesday night augurs very well for the remainder of the series. Tuesday night’s loss was the rare encouraging one.

Do you see what I have done? I have made a playoff loss an internal win. How you like them apples, Paul Millsap?


Chris Thompson