Key Legislature: Wizards 102 vs Spurs 99 — A Brief History of Washington’s Signature Win | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 102 vs Spurs 99 — A Brief History of Washington’s Signature Win

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Updated: November 5, 2015

TAI’s Key Legislature… The game’s defining moment, its critical event, the wildest basketball thing you ever saw, or just stuff that happened. Wizards vs Spurs, Regular Season, Game 4, Nov. 4, 2015, by Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks).

Don’t let anyone tell you this one didn’t matter.

The fourth game of the season was one of the most absorbing basketball games of the John Wall era. It was notable not only because of Wall’s dynamism, or kinetic genius (specifically, a late-game baseline drive in which Wall calculated he’d arrive at the basket less than a tenth of a second prior to the paint defender if he was not fouled first—he was fouled first), but because, after two seasons and four games, the Wizards have figured out how to let Bradley Beal emerge while still playing the game Wall’s way.

Over the course of the last several years, the Wizards have brought Beal along as a ballhandler, as well as a shot-maker. Watching Beal struggle with the ownership of that ball-handling role, watching him survive possessions rather than direct them, while one of the best point guards on the planet is mere feet away, has been agonizing. Beal’s work traversing each ocean of a shot clock may never have been the point, though. And even if it was, it’s evolved into something much more valuable. The Wizards don’t need Bradley Beal to dominate each possession. But they do need him to be able to bully a defense when he does get the ball, they need him to press advantages that he helps create.

Against the Spurs, the Wizards were able to blend an aggressive, mobile-with-the-ball, high-usage Beal (the Wizards ran 29% of their possessions through him when he was on the floor) and high-volume distribution by Wall (Wall assisted 44.8% of his teammates’ field goals) in a way that should become the blueprint for their offense going forward. This is especially in consideration of how comfortable Otto Porter looked gluing together any stray bits, and how many good looks Marcin Gortat had, and flubbed (he made some, too). There are still kinks to work out, of course. You could see Gortat trying incredibly hard to free up the guards on the perimeter, sometimes to the detriment of a potential pick-and-roll action to the basket for himself. With San Antonio as the opponent, it was all too easy to compare Washington’s few lapses into ball-watching with the Spurs fluid movement.

And yet, win or lose, this game mattered. Beal’s quick-thinking jab step, seen above courtesy of LaMarcus Aldridge, mattered. Even if the shot misses. But be glad it was a win. In a loss, the Wizards may not have valued those final minutes as highly, or the lineup that brought the team back from a perpetual six-point deficit. I’m talking about the five-man group that, barring injuries, will probably be the team’s starting five before season’s end: Wall, Beal, Porter, Dudley, and Gortat. This unit finished plus-9 in seven minutes versus San Antonio and previously only spent one minute on the court together (versus the Knicks).

Otto Porter entered the game for Gary Neal with 7:05 remaining in the game, joining Wall and Jared Dudley (who had not shared the court until the final seconds of the third quarter), as well as Beal and Gortat. Not long after Porter subbed in, Tony Parker hit a free throw to make the score 85-79. After Dudley traded a basket with Parker, Wall found Beal in the heart of the Spurs defense, directly underneath the basket in a halfcourt set. As Aldridge, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard closed in on Beal, Gortat trailed Wall’s pass like the white cloud left behind by a jetliner (like a chemtrail, I’m saying) and Beal somehow found him with enough time for Gortat to take two very deliberate, bounding steps before slamming a dunk over the recovering Spurs defenders.

On Washington’s next trip down the floor, Beal made a backdoor cut again. This time he received the ball on the left block on a pass from Porter, sold a backdown to Leonard, and then used a tight Gortat screen to curl around to the middle of the floor and put up a one-handed, vertical floater of sorts that spun around the basket like a magnetic pearl before dropping through. After a missed Duncan shot, Wall lobbed a pass from behind the midcourt line to Gortat, over the entire Spurs defense. The pass hit Gortat in stride, and he dunked it again (no bunnies, baby)—88-87, Spurs. The play worked so well that Wall tried it again on the next possesion, but Gortat caught the ball underneath the basket and attempted a left-side layup instead of a dunk (bunnies, unfortunately). He missed.

The Spurs, who held the lead since the end of the first quarter, finally lost it when Wall tied the game on a wide open 3-point jumper, a shot he has been trying to refine for years, and one that still bears the artless mark of practice rather than natural ability.

With the game tied, San Antonio’s frustration compounded, and the minty veneer that so characterizes their play chipped away momentarily. After recovering from a double team on Parker, Jared Dudley snuck in behind Aldridge and poked the ball away to Porter, who sprinted unflinchingly towards the opposite basket before dishing it to Beal for a dunk at the tail end of a textbook fast break. With 3:22 remaining in the game, the Wizards had their first lead since the first quarter (a quarter in which the Wizards once held a 19-2 lead, mind you).

Both teams traded basket for the next two minutes, but with 1:04 remaining, Tony Parker broke out for what looked like a promising 1v1 fast break with only Beal back on defense (after Beal missed a 3-pointer). When Parker stumbled, Beal stumbled too, both towards the ball, and Beal was able to fling the rock upwards and over his shoulder to an already rerouting Wall, who dribbled back in the other direction and exploited a mismatch with Aldridge by beating him to the basket, knowing that rickety-ass (but still brilliant, yes) Manu Ginobili was the help defender. The referee could have called a foul on either Ginobili or Aldridge on Wall’s layup attempt, but he called it on Aldridge. Wall’s take was exactly what the Wizards need to do in tight games, but have rarely done in the past: get to the basket.

And then, shit. Wall missed one of his free throws. The spate of ensuing Spurs possessions (one shot by Aldridge and two by Leonard) were excruciating, as San Antonio corralled an offensive rebound and got yet another chance when Porter tipped a ball out of bounds, unable to do much else. Eventually, though, the ball ended up in John Wall’s hands, with the shot clock off. He hit both free throws after the necessary foul. Absent a Spurs miracl—

This is when Tony Parker took his first 3-pointer of the year from the right corner of the court and sank it deep into the hearts of everyone in attendance. See: Anderson, Alan below. Tie ballgame; timeout: Wizards.

Which set up the final play. Let’s do an “oral history,” a thing that is popular with kids in 2015. Here’s what those involved told the media:

Randy Wittman: “I mean, there were multiple options. They executed it the way you’re supposed to. And then you let the defense dictate what they want to do, and that opens up who’s open. And John made a great decision. I think they switched twice. Leonard was on Brad to start but I think Green switched on him and it ended up being Aldridge. Brad made a nice one jab to get Aldridge to fall back and made a big shot. There were multiple options on that play, and they executed it well.”

Gregg Popovich: “[Bradley] Beal got open. He made a shot… LaMarcus had him, Bradley made a great move. He stutter stepped, he dribbled back, he made a shot, it happens all the time.”

LaMarcus Aldridge: “We did not communicate as good as we could have. It was a late recovery, and I tried to get out there, and he made the shot.”

Bradley Beal: “Out of all my shots tonight that one felt the best. Everything was in rhythm and it felt naturally good. As soon as I jabbed him I knew it was good.”

Wittman drew up a play that was flexible enough to allow Wall to react to the Spurs; Wall saw and exploited the Beal/Aldridge mismatch; and Beal did his part by jab-stepping Aldridge into Andromeda. This all happened with composure and confidence, and within seven seconds. In a young season, the Wizards already have a signature win. It may have also helped them settle on a signature lineup. Introducing Dudley in place of the not-quite-struggling-but-also-not-quite-succeeding Kris Humphries worked wonders during the comeback.

And although Dudley didn’t do right from a box score perspective, he somehow managed to play Aldridge to a stalemate on defense while also enjoying enough respect for his floor-spacing ability to unclog the middle for Wall, Beal, Porter, and Gortat.

The Wizards are 3-1, but they’re only plus-0.5 on the season. It is by no means an inevitability that they continue to improve or end the season in a better position than last year. But the chance to do so is there, and it should be fun to watch.

Bullets.

  • John Wall’s Offensive Rating (OffRtg) of 115.1 led the team, and his Defensive Rating (DefRtg) of 93.1 was third behind only Otto Porter and Bradley Beal. His NetRtg of plus-22 led the team.
  • Beal’s big game, and game-winner, came just after he and the team failed to agree to terms on an extension before the deadline to do so. If you’re worried, please don’t be. As noted here on TAI and elsewhere, this just makes sense. The Wizards want to keep the cap space open not so they can let Beal go, but so they can sign both Beal and another impact player (Kevin Durant, if he’ll have them).
  • After the game, Wall said that he and Beal were trying to cut out long 2s from their diet. I expect one day it will be theorized that the ancient Egyptians stored long 2s in the pyramids.

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.