Key Legislature: Wizards 103 vs Rockets 109 — D.C. Rollercoaster Malfunctions Again | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 103 vs Rockets 109 — D.C. Rollercoaster Malfunctions Again

Updated: December 10, 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 Rockets, Regular Season Game 20, Dec. 9, 2015, by Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks).

Around this pale blue dot of a cosmic rock, people with little to no contact with one another tell similar stories.

“Cinderella,” or a tale like it, is a common one (“Yeh Shen” being the Chinese version of the tale, “Rashin-Coatie” for Scotland). But forget the globe. For our purposes, we won’t even leave the city of D.C.: Yet we’re still unable to pin down the story of a Wizards game from night to night. The Wizards’ story bridges time rather than borders or culture, repeated in one of several modulated echoes every few nights with a revised set of lessons. The defeats, piling up like black trash bags outside of a restaurant in a winter colder than a Gary Neal heat check, are finally starting to declare their presence in a more authoritative way. The loss to the Rockets is as good a starting point as any for what John Wall called the “roller coaster” of wins and losses.

This yarn had it all. Nonexistent interior defense against a team quite famous for their unwillingness to take shots from anywhere on the floor other than behind the 3-point line or in the paint. Poor shooting by wing sharpshooter Bradley Beal (5-for-15 overall, 1-for-7 on 3-pointers) and seven ugly turnovers that often resulted from an unwillingness to push hard at the basket. A brilliant John Wall game marred by a late turnover.

In the first quarter alone, the Rockets (who average 43 points in the paint per game) put up 16 paint points. During one particularly discouraging three-minute first quarter stretch, beginning with just under two minutes elapsed in the game, seven consecutive made baskets by the Rockets were either dunks, alley-oops, or layups. In that time, the game swung from a 4-3 Wizards lead to a 15-8 Rockets lead.

The much-heralded return to normalcy that Marcin Gortat represents in the face of cuteball lineups featuring Otto Porter or Jared Dudley at center seemed a sour status quo, as Gortat collaborated with other Wizards defenders to allow baseline cut after baseline cut for the Rockets’ large starting frontcourt of Dwight Howard and Clint Capela. Although Gortat’s rim protection numbers (the Rockets shot 36.4% at the rim when he was defending) could lead one to believe Gortat was an effective deterrent, that was hardly the case. He too often was out of position and away from the hoop when the layup or dunk crash-landed onto the box score. By the end of the game, Gortat sported a team-low minus-17 in plus/minus differential.

While the Rockets were dinking and dunking their way to a double-digit lead, the Wizards were missing layups. In the first quarter alone Garrett Temple, Bradley Beal, John Wall, and Otto Porter missed attempts within a few feet of the basket. Porter was particularly egregious in this regard all game, content to throw up wild, high-arcing, one-armed layups with the confidence of a man who has just heard the unmistakable blow of a referee’s whistle. Thing is, the whistle never came. And while Otto’s knee may act up before it rains, physiologic foresight is hardly an accepted science.

Still, the Wizards pushed back against the pattern. In the third quarter, the team shot 65 percent from the floor. Wall dominated the Rockets on both ends, and in all facets of the sport. He worked the pick-and-roll flawlessly with Gortat, creating easy points for his big man and alternatively freeing himself for wide-0pen jumpers from the right elbow. His oft-maligned jump shot was fluid and accurate, he punched out at offensive players but always recovered enough to get square on D. In the third, Wall scored 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, had five assists, three rebounds, and a steal with no turnovers. It was a joy to watch.

When Wall came out of the game with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter (replaced by Gary Neal), the Wizards led the Rockets by four points, 76-72. Immediately, the Rockets went on an 8-0 run while the Wizards adjusted to life without their star. The Wizards recovered, and when Wall came back in to start the fourth, the Wizards had regained the lead at 83-82.

In the fourth quarter, no Wizards frontcourt player scored. Sessions, Wall, Neal, Temple, and Beal were the only Wizards who put up points (a mere 20 in total), and each possession appeared laborious, each a wish on a shooting star heading off into unmapped space. As James Harden drew fouls by pushing off defenders with his elbow while converting a series of increasingly frustrating and-1 opportunities, the Wizards went 0-for-9 from the 3-point line.

After getting a 3-point shot blocked, Gary Neal needlessly expended two fourth quarter possessions chucking up contested, early shot clock 3-pointers to prove that he could miss all on his own. Neal’s contested field goal percentage for this one: 16.7 percent.

Despite all that, the game was tied with three minutes remaining when Randy Wittman subbed Otto Porter in for Garrett Temple. The Wizards closed the game four-out against the Rockets, running Wall, Beal, Neal, and Porter alongside Gortat. I don’t want to be the stereotypical blogger and advocate for Jared Dudley in this situation (despite his key role in kickstarting the Wizards comeback in the third quarter with a number of timely steals and shots), so I’ll go in a different direction and say that I would have preferred Ramon Sessions to Gary Neal. In a game that featured 48 foul calls, and with the team cold from the outside, it made sense (to this humble scribe) to foist Sessions, he of the team-high free throw rate and ability to get to the basket, upon the scene. It’s a minor gripe, but there it is.

In the final three minutes, the only Wizards field goal was an eighteen-foot Wall fadeaway jumper. Down three (104-101) with 44 seconds remaining, Wall left his feet on his way to what looked like a layup attempt, but he was met by Patrick Beverley mid-air and must have seen Dwight Howard with his hands up behind Beverley. Instead of attempting to finish through the contact, Wall tried to leak the ball back to a trailing Gortat, but missed his mark by a wide margin. The ball trickled right to James Harden (story of this guy’s life), and four seconds later Corey Brewer was scoring on the fast break, effectively icing the game.

Wall’s late-game turnover will get more attention, but Bradley Beal’s fourth quarter turnovers were just as costly. First, Beal fumbled the ball as he tried to thread an already-melted needle to Marcin Gortat with three Rockets defenders around him mere feet from the hoop, leading to a Corey Brewer steal with six minutes remaining and a Rockets fast break (which led to a Beverley 3). Next, Beal again tried to feed Gortat (this time in the post and wide-open), but only after he’d let himself get trapped in the right corner by two Rockets defenders. Dwight Howard got the steal, and the Rockets were off and running. The Wizards rank fifth in the NBA in turnovers, and Beal’s seven were a major reason folks in Houston were toasting The Beard this morning.

And so, this game goes in the books, same as any other. It’s a different story, sure, but because there are only two relevant results to an NBA contest, the seesaw input of wins and losses feels all too familiar. On Friday, the Pelicans. Strap in.

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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.