Opening Statements: Rd. 2, Gm. 5 — What If This Is As Good As It Gets? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Rd. 2, Gm. 5 — What If This Is As Good As It Gets?

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Updated: May 13, 2015

Moments after Paul Pierce hit his improbable bank-shot to win Game 3, John Schuhmann of NBA.com asked him why the Wizards offense had been so effective without John Wall. That game featured four starters in double-figures (Ramon Sessions was two points short) and Otto Porter had 17 off the bench. Pierce responded to Schuhmann by giving what he believed was the blueprint to victory for the Wall-less Wizards:

“It’s going to be a combination of a lot of guys, the way we move the ball, move our bodies. We know John can create a lot of offense for us, he’s one of the league leaders, if not the league leader in assists. What it will take to replace that is a lot of ball movement, a lot of cutting, moving the ball from side to side, keeping them off balance. It makes us a little more unpredictable, especially when you got like five, six guys in double-figures, similar to Atlanta.”

On paper, it looks like the Wizards followed that blueprint in Game 4. Five Wizards were in double-figures, and if Paul Pierce had been able to hit the wide-open 3-pointer to send the game into OT at home (despite the presence of DeMarre Carroll nipping at his feet and truncating his follow-thru), the Wizards might have found themselves up 3-1 with an opportunity to close out the series tonight. The reality is that in the second half of Game 4, when Washington spent the majority of the time trying to chip away at the Hawks’ lead, Bradley Beal scored 19 of the Wizards’ 46 points. Nene and Gortat combined for just eight points, Sessions had just two, and Otto Porter had just one. Ironically enough, they were able to successfully trim the lead because the usually-balanced Hawks became one-dimensional and leaned heavily on Jeff Teague (14 second-half points). The difference? Atlanta shot 4-for-1o from the 3-point line in the second half, while the Wizards shot just 2-for-11.

Despite their imbalanced second half of play, the Hawks did get the victory. As Al Horford said after the Game 4, “We weren’t going to be kept down for long, that just wasn’t happening.” Teague, taking a cue from his backup Dennis Schröder, remembered that Wall was not in the lineup and began to aggressively attack the middle of Washington’s defense. Paul Millsap shook off the flu from Game 3 and was once again the inside/outside threat that neither Nene nor Gortat could handle. Millsap and Horford combined for 37 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, and four steals, while Gortat and Nene mustered just 15 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists. Kyle Korver and Carroll were each held under double-figures, which will most likely not happen once they return to their home court.

The Wizards have reasons to be concerned coming into Game 5. John Wall is now dribbling a basketball, but conducting drills with selected teammates on the practice court is a far cry from trying to dribble around Teague, while avoiding picks from Horford, Millsap, Pero Antic, and the rest of the Hawks who will surely target his left hand. If Wall is able to play, there is no doubt that he will give the Wizards an emotional lift, but without tangible on-the-court results (increased pace, wide-open shots for Otto Porter, productive possessions with Gortat rolling to the basket), they will simply break even with a Hawks team that will be in the throes of their emotional home-court boost. And while the Wizards are just 1-2 without Wall (11-42 overall), Randy Wittman (and apparently Paul Pierce) know what the Wall-less keys to victory should be.

The question is, how will the Wizards adjust to assist Wall when he’s slowed or hindered by his hand? The Cleveland Cavaliers were struggled mightily to defeat the Chicago Bulls with a limping Kyrie Irving in Game 4, but LeBron James bailed them out with a game-ending shot. Bradley Beal and Pierce have the ability to bail out the Wizards in that same fashion, but—with all due respect to the up-and-coming Beal and the Hall-of-Famer, master-of-all-things-clutch—neither is LeBron F. James.

The elephant in the room, and the one question Wall surely does not want to hear now that the swelling has subsided in his hand, is: Are the Wizards better off just shutting him down and taking their chances without him? This would surely leave the Wizards wondering what would have happened had Wall been allowed to play, but that seems inevitable given that he will not be 100 percent until a possible surgery (or time in a cast/splint) and rehab. This is also risky given that a return trip to the playoffs next season, let alone being on the brink of a Eastern Conference Finals trip, is never a given. Wall will surely want to test his warrior-ness and play in a limited capacity now, while worrying about the damage later.

So many questions, so few satisfying answers, and yet the series is tied 2-2. Charles Barkley may have jumped off the Wizards bandwagon, but there’s no reason to believe—given how close all four games have played—that the Wizards can’t win a tough Game 5 on the road.

Here to help TAI discuss tonight’s pivotal Game 5 is Jared Wade (@Jared_Wade). Jared writes a weekly NBA column, The Weekside, for FanSided and is the editor in chief of 8 Points, 9 Seconds.

#1) The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo reported earlier today that John Wall is finally able to dribble with his left hand, which seems like an awfully low bar considering he’s being asked to lead his team over the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

If you’re Randy Wittman, are you buoyed enough by your team’s play in Wall’s absence to just sit him the rest of the series, or do you like your chances with one-and-a-half handed Wall and allow him to play in Game 5 despite the risks involved?

@Jared_Wade: I really don’t like Ramon Sessions as a basketball player. He actually hasn’t been too bad in this series, but my opinion is unchanged. So I would let Wall go if he wants to play. This isn’t a knee or a shoulder. It’s broken bones in his off-hand, and while I’m no doctor, I would imagine that inability to perform and pain are the biggest concerns here—not long-term damage. I’m sure he could make the problem worse by playing, but the bones will still heal with enough offseason rest, and I doubt he can have lasting impediments to his game since it’s his non-shooting hand. Obviously Wittman needs to ask the doctors these questions, but if they allow him to play and he wants to suit up, I would start him.

#2) Throwing out the regular season records and relying simply on the eye test, who has been the better team after four games? If John Wall plays, who will win this series? Who will win if he does not play?

@Jared_WadeThe Wizards have played better. They won Game 1, dominated Game 3, and were a Paul Pierce missed 3-pointer away from taking Game 4 to overtime. If a 100 percent John Wall suited up the rest of the way, I would put my money on the Wizards. But with a highly limited or sideline-suited-and-booted John Wall, I’m taking the Hawks.

#3) In Game 4, Bradley Beal arguably played his best basketball since last year’s playoff series against the Bulls and the Pacers.

In his fantastic article about the Washington Wizards, Grantland’s Zach Lowe mentioned that Beal—despite his strong playoff performances—is not a max level player because he’s injury prone, a tentative driver, shaky on the pick-and-roll, and inconsistent on defense. Is that a fair assessment, or can you make the case that Beal is indeed a max contract player?

@Jared_Wade: It’s so hard to make contract valuations right now since the cap is about to jump by $20-to-$30 million in the next few years. In the current landscape, I would agree with Lowe. But if you can get him starting at $15 million in the first year now for the next five years? That could look fine once so many more players across the league are making $15 million per after the cap goes up. But of the guys on the bubble for max deals soon, I’d pay all of Kawhi, Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green before Beal.

#4) How do you see Game 5 playing out?

@Jared_WadeThe Hawks have yet to have a blistering shooting night this series, and really all postseason. As much as I am enjoying this Wizards ride, the Wall injury and the seeming inevitability of one of those 15-made-triples nights from Atlanta means that I think they’ll win Game 5 in the Highlight Factory.

Wall’s (Highly Questionable) Pre-Game Prep

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.