The Bench Mob Saves The Day — Wizards at Pistons, DC Council 10 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Bench Mob Saves The Day — Wizards at Pistons, DC Council 10

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Updated: November 22, 2015

M.V.P.

Nene. He was removed from the starting lineup before the season in favor of Kris Humphries with the hope that three areas would improve: Marcin Gortat would have more room to roam the lane, Kris Humphries (or whomever the stretch 4 ended up being) would add the versatility that was lacking with Nene in the starting lineup, and finally Nene himself would have an easier time imposing his will against second-team personnel.

In Detroit, Gortat scored 14 points, but he scored 10 of those in the first quarter when John Wall looked confident and was creating offensive opportunities for the starters. He was not able to maintain that momentum. And Humphries may as well have been a DNP (more on that later), but Nene imposed his will early, often and successfully.

When the Brazilian checked into the game with 1:40 left in the first quarter, he was on defense, and, due to a great pick by Andre Drummond on Garrett Temple, Nene was all alone on the perimeter with Reggie Jackson. Nene stood his ground, got his hand in the face of Jackson, and forced him to take a tough fadeaway jumper as the shot clock expired. Nene then ran the floor, beat Drummond to the paint, went to his spot on the block, called for the ball, and hit a step back jumper. There was no hesitation, none of the dreaded over-dribbling that Randy Wittman hates—just fluid motions on both ends of the floor.

Nene was at his most effective in the second quarter when he and his fellow bench mates stretched the Wizards’ lead from six to 14 points. Drummond was now on the bench, and Aron Baynes—whom Comcast SportsNet’s Steve Buckhantz described as an “immobile, big, lumbering guy”—was tasked with guarding Nene. Nene bothered Baynes on defense by repeatedly pushing him further up the lane, and on defense Nene got away with a hook en route to an easy basket in the paint. He also hit midrange shots and dominated against substandard competition just as he was supposed to do as a former starter. By halftime Nene was 7-for-7 from the field with 14 points, and had the starters not surrendered the double-digit lead, he would have comfortably led the Wizards to a 14-point lead at the start of the third quarter.

Nene finally missed a shot in that third period, and he only scored four points in the second half, but he picked up the offense and defensive slack for the starters in the first half, and helped the bench play with confidence well into the fourth quarter. He also showed that, unlike Kris Humphries, he can dribble, drive, and finish. Just watch:

L.V.P.

Kris Humphries “wins” this award for the second consecutive game. On a night when the starters collectively played like an ace pitcher sans their best stuff, Humphries was the weakest link by far. In 16 minutes of play, he went 0-for-7 for the field (including an airballed floater and an 0-for-4 effort from the 3-point line), grabbed just five rebounds, and could not stop the quicker Ersan Ilyasova in the paint. During one particularly futile stretch toward the end of the second quarter, Humphries badly missed a 3-pointer, then missed an attempt to dunk his own miss, and then two possessions later he was late on a defensive rotation and allowed Ilyasova an easy drive to the basket.

Humphries started the second half with a missed layup, a bad pass turnover, and a missed 26-footer. Coach Wittman sat him down at the 7:47 mark of the third quarter and he did not play again. Yes, Humphries has become low-hanging fruit when it comes to listing all that’s wrong with the Wizards, and even though he (and Jared Dudley) are placeholders until Kevin Durant arrives (or doesn’t), there has to be a better solution. He’s noticeably off-key.

X-Factor.

Ramon Sessions. With the exception of the first nine minutes of the game when it appeared as if John Wall could get anywhere on the court without resistance, the All-Star had an off night. He finished with eight points and seven assists, but only two points and two assists came after the first quarter. For one night, Sessions pulled off a believable J-Wall impression.

In the second quarter, as both Buckhantz and Phil Chenier pointed out, Sessions pushed the pace and showed off his ability to get in the lane at will (just as Wall would normally do). He went to the free throw line six times in the first quarter and made four. When there was no clear opening for Sessions, he did what any good point guard would do: he fed the ball to the man with the hot hand, Nene.

Sessions came in for Wall with 6:02 left in the third quarter with the Wizards trailing by nine points. Sessions then had four points, five assists, and was accountable for 14 of the Wizards’ final 15 points in the third, using the same successful formula that had worked in the second quarter. He pushed the ball, put pressure on the Pistons interior defense by getting into the lane, got to the free throw line, and took the open shots when necessary.

Perhaps Sessions’ most impressive play of the night came via a hockey assist. He grabbed the long rebound off a Stanley Johnson miss, sprinted up the court, drove the lane, and drew the defense to him. Then he kicked it out to Gary Neal who swung the ball to Jared Dudley for the splash…

John Wall won’t always lay an egg the way he did on Saturday night, but there’s comfort in knowing that Sessions can summon this type of performance in case of emergency.

That game was … an exercise in trust by Randy Wittman.

John Wall was clearly in an offensive rhythm in the first quarter. After the Pistons jumped out to a 12-4 lead, Wall led the Wizards on a 16-8 run with six points and four assists. Wittman traditionally takes Wall out of the game toward the end of the first quarter and rests him until halfway through the second, but given how fluidly Wall was running the offense and getting easy baskets for both himself and his teammates, Wittman probably should have let him continue. Instead, he took Wall out of the game. The Wizards’ bench held it down for two and a half minutes to lead by 26-20, however…

In the second quarter the bench completely took over (thanks to Sessions and Nene) and they built a 14-point lead with 5:57 left in the period. Coach Wittman let the bench stay in a bit longer than usual while the Pistons subbed in three of their staters (Caldwell-Pope, Drummond, and Jackson)—Washington’s bench still maintained a 14-point lead. But then Wittman appeared to sub the starters back into the game simply out of habit instead of reading and feeling the flow of the game. They reeled and the game was tied at halftime.

When the Wizards trailed by nine points in the second half, Wittman pulled Bradley Beal, Gortat, and Wall out of the game and decided to play Sessions, Nene, and Garrett Temple instead. He went with a bench-heavy rotation until six minutes were left in the game, when the starters were allowed to come in and win it. After not going with the flow in the first half, Wittman switched his strategy in the second half by trusting the bench to keep his team in the game and allowing his starters to seal the deal.

Three Things We Saw.

#1) The referees were just as off as John Wall on Saturday night. As Steve Buckhantz first observed with 3:42 left in the fourth quarter, the game clock did not start for 10 seconds, which could have adversely affected the Wizards in the closing seconds of the game. There was also a quick five-second call on Otto Porter, when the replays clearly showed only four seconds had elapsed. And finally, with 2:17 left in the game, Marcus Morris tied up Gortat, which should have resulted in an easy jump ball for the taller Gortat. Instead, Andre Drummond was allowed to sneak in, much to Wittman and Gortat’s dismay. Drummond easily won the tap over a distracted Gortat. The Wizards still won the game, but Wittman & Co. could have mounted quite a protest had the game gone the other direction.

#2) Bradley Beal returned after a three game absence due to a bruised left shoulder. He looked understandably hesitant during the game, even if he ditched his shoulder harness after halftime. Beal finished with just seven points on 3-for-8 shooting, but he did hit a big basket in the fourth quarter when he curled off a Nene screen and hit a shot to give the Wizards a 90-89 lead.

#3) Garrett Temple and Jared Dudley could have easily been chosen as the X-factors in the win. Temple was back in a reserve role with the return of Beal, but he didn’t miss a beat with eight points, five rebounds, and several deflections. Jared Dudley, who told the media after the Bucks game that his conditioning and his shooting stroke were finally in simpatico, had another strong shooting performance with nine points (2-for-2 from the 3-point line). Dudley and Temple, along with their fellow bench players Sessions, Nene, and Neal, scored 51 of the Wizards’ 97 points.
 

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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.