DC Council Round 2, Game 4: Wizards vs Hawks — This Was An Opportunity | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

DC Council Round 2, Game 4: Wizards vs Hawks — This Was An Opportunity

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Updated: May 12, 2015

Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council:
Grading Wizards players from Second Round Playoff Game No. 4:
Washington Wizards versus the Atlanta Hawks in D.C,
Contributor: Chris Thompson from the Verizon Center.

DC-Council-Logo-2

Gah. This was an opportunity. You could make an intensely frustrating five-minute highlight reel of all the achingly avoidable ways the Wizards gaffed away chances to bring the game within a single possession, or even to a tie. Some fluky combination of Atlanta knocking down some tough (and often low-value) shots and the Wizards picking exactly the wrong times to be goobers kept Washington always a finger’s length away from drawing even, where I have to think the enormous pressure this would have put upon the Hawks would have accrued generally in favor of the home team. This was an opportunity.

Go easy on the home team, though. They performed valiantly against a frothing-desperate Hawks team at very near full strength. If Paul Millsap’s “internal win” nonsense was, umm, nonsense, this Wizards loss was at least no more nonsensically kind of almost something very closely approaching the range of looking vaguely like what some might quietly and within the nonjudgemental confines of their own darkened bedroom describe at an absolute whisper to themselves and no one else as a moral victory. I didn’t say it! No one said it. I’m just saying, on the broad spectrum of losses, ranging from horrible through forgivable all the way up to encouraging, this one falls somewhere in the range of doomed heroism, which is certainly nearer to encouraging than horrible.

Let’s talk about it.


 

Atlanta Hawks

106

Final

Box Score

Washington Wizards

101

Nene Hilario, PF

31 MIN | 6-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | 0

Wizards fans who worried that the slow, tired-seeming Nene from the series’ first two games would return in Game 4 learned quickly—via an early pick-and-pop jumper and a pair of thunderous first-half dunks—that this was not to be the case. In fact, the Big Brazilian spent much of his night putting various Hawks players on various posters, highlighting his impressive variety of offensive skills.

For that matter, there’s probably a strong case to be made that the Wizards should have put the ball in Nene’s hands more often, both in the post and out near the free-throw line. While Paul Millsap struggled with foul trouble for most of the night, the Wizards never really made Al Horford work very hard at the defensive end, and might have benefited from trying to force him onto Nene, who, on this night, was not to be denied.

Hard as it may be to believe of this Wizards team, though, this game wasn’t really lost on the offensive end. The Wizards were a mess defensively through the entire first half, and Nene and Gortat were both guilty of getting caught in no-man’s land defending the pick-and-roll, and then being slow to rotate and help, which goes a long way toward explaining Atlanta’s 34 first-half points in the paint. The team buckled down in the second half and made it a game, but it’s hard not to think the early defensive malaise might have been the difference in this one.


Paul Pierce, SF

33 MIN | 8-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 0 TO | 22 PTS | 0

Pierce did nearly everything right. He did enough defensively on DeMarre Carroll to keep him as quiet as he’s been in the playoffs, and helped admirably on the inside, registering a game-high three blocks on the night. And his five 3-pointers nearly all came in huge spots, when the Hawks seemed ready to make a run, or the Wizards desperately needed to make one of their own. He even fouled in the right spots, once mucking up a Hawks breakaway opportunity with a perfectly-timed loose-ball foul. Playoff Pierce is a real thing, and the Wizards were granted another heavy dose of him on Monday night.

Then, with seconds on the clock and the Wizards seemingly in need of a miracle, the stars aligned, and quick execution, swallowed whistles, and a defensive error handled 85 percent of the miracle before Pierce even touched the ball. The easiest part of the play was lining up and knocking down a wide, wide open wing 3-pointer to tie the game and keep the Wizards in position to pull off the unthinkable. You know what happened: The ball found the back of the iron, and that was pretty much that.

The guy knocked down five crucial 3-pointers on the night and was just huge in keeping the Wizards in the game down to the end. You can’t kill him for missing one—if that miss had come on any of his earlier attempts, a make in the final 10 seconds would have left the Wizards still a bucket short with no time and no timeouts. But that was a really open shot, and if that’s why Paul Pierce is here, he’s got to knock it down.

Tellingly, both Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore admitted after the game they thought the shot was going down. Here’s what Bazemore had to say, when asked point blank if he thought the shot would find bottom:

“Yeah, I did. I turned my mind to overtime. We got lucky, and that’s what the playoffs are all about.”

No one could have asked for a better look than that one.


Marcin Gortat, C

31 MIN | 1-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTS | -3 

Buh. Gortat had a really, really rough night. The Hawks were able to string him out on pick-and-rolls, and Washington’s ball-handlers, almost to a man, elected to cross in front of him rather than drive at the defense, essentially cutting off his path to the basket and mucking up the floor-spacing. Then there were times when Gortat found himself in space under the basket, but Wizards ball-handlers lacking John Wall’s otherworldy spacial awareness failed to find him. And he missed a few bunnies on put-backs … and he committed some cheap fouls … and he let any number of rebound opportunities squirt away. He had a bad game.

The Wizards spent a good chunk of the fourth quarter playing a small lineup featuring Nene at the 5, with Gortat on the bench, which was a good call, reflecting the strength of Nene’s play and Gortat’s difficulties. There came a point, though, when Nene was visibly wearing down, and the Wizards desperately needed a fresh lineup on the floor to pressure the Hawks. Gortat was inserted into the game, and the crowd angrily and loudly expressed their disapproval.

This is lame, and terrible, and reflects terribly upon Wizards fans. Being basketball savvy means knowing that the shift from Nene to Gortat, under those circumstances, is a potential downgrade. Being a smart and savvy member of a home crowd means, as a rule, shutting the hell up about it. Gortat has been, at worst, the third-best Wizards player throughout this season, and in all circumstances deserves (and will benefit from) belief and support from the home fans. You’d expect a murmur of disquiet to ripple through the arena when that switch is made, but a dumb, absentee, bandwagon, and in all other ways bad home crowd boos and jeers one of their team’s most important players during one of the most important stretches of basketball the team has played in decades, for nothing worse than having an off night.

Do better, Wizards fans. You embarrassed yourselves Monday night.


Ramon Sessions, PG

34 MIN | 5-14 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | -1

Sessions, bless his heart, threw himself over and over again at Atlanta’s interior defense, because he is a courageous player burdened with the impossible job of patching up the John Wall-sized hole in Washington’s offense. He missed, a lot. He finished 4-of-11 from inside the 3-point arc, and 4-of-9 from inside the paint, and 4-of-8 from in front of the rim.

Still, there’s something heroic and commendable about his routine, and on another night the refs—who, in one man’s opinion, might as well have been wearing Hawks jerseys for much of the game—would have sent him to the stripe for some of the contact he absorbed on those dashing forays into the restricted area. It’s hard to fault Sessions much for his approach—he took just two midrange jumpers in the game—but the results weren’t there, and some of that comes down to the calculated risk he takes in playing to contact. Sometimes the refs play along, and sometimes they swallow their whistle. Monday night they swallowed their whistles and hung homie out to dry.

Where Sessions hurt the Wizards, though, was in his inability to make much out of the numerous pick-and-rolls the offense put him into, and his tunnel vision once he did decide to go into attack mode. In order for guys like Gortat, Drew Gooden, and Otto Porter to do their best work, they need their point guard and all other Wizards ball-handlers to play with their head up, and it’s not a coincidence those three guys had lackluster nights.

Defensively, Sessions seemed more keyed-in, alert, and consistent at ducking under screens than certain other Wizards guards, which is absolutely the right way to defend every single high pick-and-roll involving Atlanta’s two main ball-handlers. As the game wore on, he did a great job of dipping under, obstructing the screener’s path away from the action, and recovering under control, and that approach overall helped tremendously in slowing Atlanta’s offense and holding them to 41 second-half points.


Bradley Beal, SG

44 MIN | 11-25 FG | 8-9 FT | 6 REB | 7 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 34 PTS | 0

First of all, 11-of-25 shooting is better than you might think it is, given the circumstances. Second of all, and most importantly, ignore those numbers entirely. Bradley Beal, Monday night, was spectacular. His play was beyond heroic. It was a breathtaking, fearless, fully committed effort over 44 minutes of intense, physical, desperate basketball. Maximum #efforting, guys.

Looking at the Wizards active roster Monday night (and likely for the rest of the series), it’s easy to see it solely in terms of what’s missing, and everyone knows what’s missing. But I urge you to clear your mind and look at it with fresh eyes for exactly what it is, and consider it within the context of a playoff team in a series against an equal foe. The Wizards have abundant role players, and, under most circumstances, Bradley Beal is another one of them—his job is to space the floor, contort the defense, and make good on opportunities created by the team’s alpha dog. But this is not that team.

On this team—the one that took the floor Monday night—Beal is the third overall pick, a tested and proven playoff performer, and a foundational cornerstone of an NBA franchise. The Hawks aren’t game-planning for the John Wall-led Washington Wizards, they’re game-planning for the Bradley Beal-led Washington Wizards, and, against that game plan, Beal ripped off his normal workaday suit, flexed his terrifying radioactive muscles, and tore their defense to absolute shreds. Down the stretch of Game 4, the Hawks had no answers whatsoever. They foolishly let poor, serviceable Dennis Schröder stick on Beal, and Beal ate his lunch, his dinner, and every meal the guy hoped to eat over the next several years of his life.

Beal, too, for the most part was disciplined about frustrating Atlanta’s pick-and-roll game, especially in the second half, when Washington’s defense tightened up and gave their offense a chance to chip away at Atlanta’s lead. His three steals were a game high, and his three turnovers were—considering the circumstances and his workload—close to a miracle.

I understand why the Wizards went to Paul Pierce on the final possession, it was the right call, he had a great look, and it would be the epitome of 20/20 hindsight to second-guess the decision now. That said, Beal was phenomenal against the Hawks, and I would be very interested in observing an alternate reality in which the final meaningful Wizards possession of the game put the ball in his hands.


Drew Gooden, PF

19 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | -5

Gooden had a tough night. In order for his value as a pick-and-pop big to bear fruit—whether in the form of knocked-down perimeter shots or valuable spacing—he needs Washington’s ball-handlers to put a lot of pressure on opposing bigs. When he sets a screen, he needs the ball-handler to threaten the defense and drag his man away, preferably down into the paint. There wasn’t much of that Monday night, whether because Atlanta’s defenders were tighter on their angles or because Washington’s guards just plain struggled to execute a plan of attack against the Hawks’ trapping scheme when Gooden was on the floor. Whatever the case, Gooden routinely found himself without the space he needs to rain hellfire from beyond the arc, and that really hurts both Washington’s offense and Gooden’s overall value in the rotation.

At least one of his turnovers was the result of him doing too much, which is a thing that happens when a stretch big with a limited overall skill-set is suddenly met with tighter close-outs and closer defense, and his lousy defensive rating on the night (117.3, worst of anyone who played more than four minutes for the Wizards) handily illustrates the difficulty he had trying to guard Atlanta’s perimeter-oriented bigs while also hedging hard, as he generally does, against the pick-and-roll.

Gooden is, generally, a net-positive for the Wizards. He had a rough time Monday night, but it’s a tough matchup for him, and especially so in the absence of Wall.


Otto Porter Jr., SF

30 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -3

Next to Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter might be the single Wizards player who most suffered from the lack of heads-up guard play Monday night, especially from Sessions and Will Bynum. All four of his shot attempts came from beyond the arc, which is generally OK, except when it indicates that all his off-ball movement in the half-court isn’t being utilized to create havoc and cheap opportunities within the opposing defense. That was undeniably the case Monday night.

At least one of Otto’s missed 3-pointers was the result of him rushing his shot, and Otto generally looked hurried and a little out of control on offense. He found ways to contribute, but this was one of those nights when his weakness at making plays off the dribble against a set defense limited his ability to positively impact the game on offense.


Will Bynum, PG

14 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 10 PTS | -6

Bynum’s scoring is a valuable asset for the Wizards, but, man, he really hurt the Wizards Monday night. That might seem like a crazy thing to say of a guy who scored 10 points in just 14 minutes of burn, but it’s true.

Individual on/off numbers can be wildly misleading, but in this case Bynum’s minus-6 might even be misleadingly low: he had a terrible live-ball turnover in the second quarter that Atlanta couldn’t exploit for the simple reason that DeMarre Carroll slipped and fell in transition; he dribbled the ball off of Drew Gooden’s foot in the backcourt and was lucky when it rolled out of bounds before Dennis Schröder could get to it; and he turned an offensive rebound in a 3-on-2 situation into a turnover when he threw a tough inside bounce pass in traffic. The Wizards desperately needed those possessions, and while Bynum’s scoring was nice, his four turnovers led all players on both teams, in just, yes, 14 minutes of burn.

But even that leaves short the real harm he inflicted upon the Wizards’ chances Monday night. He was, by far, the worst pick-and-roll defender on the floor. Often, going over a screen is described as “fighting,” because it generally takes more effort than simply dipping under it, and, when done with effort, it can keep the defender in range of his man without requiring a ton of help from the rest of the defense. Will Bynum’s version of fighting over the screen is essentially the same thing as dying on it—over and over again he put himself so far behind the play that Washington’s whole defense was ripped apart. It was plain as day that Atlanta’s lead guards preferred to drive into the paint rather than dribble into long jumpers and 3-pointers, and even after the rest of Washington’s guards figured this out, Bynum was still ramming headlong into the screener and then meekly and hesitatingly moseying his way over the top, sometimes as far as six or eight feet behind his man, who, by then, was gutting the Wizards’ interior defense like a fish.

Coach Wittman needs to do a better job of picking his spots with Bynum. He can score, and he can penetrate, and those are HUGELY useful abilities in the playoffs, especially without John Wall, but he should not be guarding the point of attack against guards as quick and capable as Atlanta’s. Ever.


Garrett Temple, SG

4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -7

Temple played a few minutes, was called for a completely bogus shooting foul, and missed a shot. It’s tough to come down one way or another on his performance, so he gets a pass.


Randy Wittman

After a rough, dangerous first half in which the Wizards needed some serious shot-making in order to hang anywhere close to Atlanta, adjustments were apparently made and Washington seriously hunkered down and walled off the paint in the second half. And, as has been the case throughout these playoffs, when the Wizards weren’t getting to the rim, they were at least generating valuable 3-point looks, which is a smart and welcome and vital adjustment from their regular season approach. These are all good things. Leaning on Nene in the second half was the right move, as was bumping up Pierce’s minutes, scaling back Otto’s, occasionally switching screens on defense, and whatever offensive adjustment or shot of moxie had Bradley Beal pounding away at Schröder and attacking the defense’s soft spots over and over again.

They never really did figure out a way to slow down Al Horford, although it’s worth noting that only four of his 18 shots came in the restricted area, and the Wizards are right to live or die with Horford taking 13 midrange jumpers. Those shots, even if Horford is good at making them, are a better result for the defense than what might have opened up had the Wizards committed extra help to take those shots away.

Wittman does deserve some blame, though, for the extended burn he gave Will Bynum in the second half, when he was observably undoing Washington’s defense. I assume this was a calculated risk, and therefore one you can’t totally kill Wittman for making—the Wizards needed points, and they needed fresh bodies, and they needed stops, and if Bynum couldn’t promise all three, he at least gave them plenty of the first two and a chance in hell of the third. And it’s hard to know where else he should have turned—Temple could have played more minutes, but then you’re banking upon the Wizards getting points from their defense (where Temple is significantly overrated) and somehow holding up against Atlanta’s trapping scheme and fierce on-ball defense with a dangerously unsteady ball-handler.

Wittman did what he could with an incomplete deck. They had no answers for Atlanta’s attack in the first half, no means of getting Gortat uncorked, and no plan for hiding Bynum on defense. But! They came within one wide-open brick from a historically great clutch shooter of potentially sending Game 4 into overtime, with a frenzied home crowd, a scorching-hot Bradley Beal, and all the momentum on their side. Wittman did well. Hell, he was great.


 

Chris Thompson