Key Legislature: Wizards 95 at Spurs 114 — A Losing Season's Defining Quarter | Wizards Blog Truth About

Key Legislature: Wizards 95 at Spurs 114 — A Losing Season’s Defining Quarter

Updated: December 17, 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 at Spurs, Regular Season Game 24, Dec. 16, 2015, by John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend).

The Washington Wizards scored 31 points in the first quarter. A record this season! They really did, because stats don’t lie. And by halftime, the Wizards trailed by just three, 52-55, helped very much by shooting 60 percent from the field in the first quarter and less so by their second-quarter accuracy: 35 percent. There the Washington Wizards were. In the fight against the classy-as-fuck Spurs. In San Antonio.

There they were.

Then Popovich and Co. outscored the Wizards 31-19 in the third quarter, which ended with a moan from Comcast SportsNet’s play-by-play analyst Steve Buckhantz. “Backbreaker,” he said, as he watched Manu Ginobili’s walk-up 3-pointer rip through the twine as time was about the expire in the period. The game would go on, and both those at the AT&T Center and those at home would stay tuned-in to what once looked like a competitive sporting event, but it could have very well ended with Manu’s trey. It should have. The man called it—Buckhantz called ‘game.’

After watching the third quarter for a second time (DVR is a wonderful and wicked thing), I can conclude that it was worse than it looked live. And, if you read on, you’ll discover exactly why.

The Third Quarter That Sucked…

…started with a side pick-and-roll featuring John Wall and Marcin Gortat. Not a bad idea, given its effectiveness in the first half, save for two second-quarter possessions in which the Spurs snuffed out the action and walked away from the play with a takeaway. Still, Gortat finished the first half with 14 points—his season high is 18. Unfortunately, to start the third, San Antonio sealed Gortat’s roll to the rim and the play ended up with Wall settling for a floater from 14 feet, which missed. 

On the other side: David West, filling in for a resting Tim Duncan, drained an open midrange jumper (flashbacks to that terribly managed playoff series with the Pacers, anyone?) on a pick-and-pop. The shot was open because both Wall and Kris Humphries collapsed on Tony Parker driving baseline.

The next Washington possession ended in a midrange attempt—not a Wall floater but a jumper from Gary Neal, curling off a pindown screen set by Gortat. The very next Wizards possession ended with … yes, another midrange attempt. Another early-shot clock jumper for Neal, who came off another pindown screen (from Humphries).

On the other end: Tony Parker hit LaMarcus Aldridge on the wing, 17 feet from the hoop. Problem: Wall stopped following Parker along his cut across the floor, instead deciding that—with less than four seconds left on the shot clock—helping Gortat defend Aldridge was the best defensive play. The result was Parker unrolling a beautiful Persian rug under the rim, pouring a cup of tea, and finally hitting an easy and uncontested lay-in.

Was the help unnecessary? Yes! Was this defensive possession symptomatic of so many of the Wizards’ problems? YES!

At this point, the game was still close—59-54, Spurs led—and the Wizards chose to run some screen action for Otto Porter. He read the screen, took a strong dribble to his left, then, as he usually does when heading left, hugged the ball and initiated lift-off for a midrange look: an off-balance floater, which predictably missed (off the back iron). Parker, a midrange savant, answered Porter’s miss with a rare midrange miss of his own.

Then this happened:

Timeout, Wizards.

Now, out of that timeout, the Wizards ran screen action for Neal. He covered nearly every inch of the halfcourt, curling around two screens while Wall stood as flat-footed as a bronze statue at the top of the arc. Wall, patient as ever, finally passed to Neal, who then was running from the baseline toward halfcourt. Neal then turned and tried to attack the paint, but was stripped by Kawhi Leonard, who started the fast break, passing to Parker, who slowed it down. The ball ended up with David West, who hit Danny Green with a cross-court pass: wide-open in the right corner. Green missed, but that defensive possession was, and still is, troubling. Porter, over-helping off the ball, left Green (this year a sub-.300 3-point shooter but still a .411 career sniper) open twice in two separate corners on that possession.

Porter next took a soft screen from Gortat and turned it into a soft midrange jumper, which he made. But Leonard hit one of his own over Humphries on the other end. Then Otto took another soft screen from Gortat and turned it into a 3-pointer, without making any attempt to penetrate. Porter missed.

On the other end: Leonard hit a 3 in Otto’s face for, say, the third time in the game. Porter, who came into the night allowing opponents to shoot 11.2 percent better from 3-point land, was in a predicament. Leonard can knock down the trey, but, see, if Porter covered Leonard any tighter, the former NBA Finals MVP would bounce right past him … and likely see little contest from any of the other Wizard on the floor.

Anyway … Neal then took another long 2, and made it, to put the score at 58-66, but West answered with a long 2 of his own to make it a 10-point game. Wall saved a Wizards possession with as much movement as a starfish nursery with a made floater. But then Leonard shook Porter off the dribble and hit a jumper. Then Leonard hit a technical free throw, served up by Wall who was upset by a clear and clean block on a drive to the basket.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.13.39 PM

[Mid-quarter #WittmanFace]

After the tech, San Antonio turned the ball over, but the Wizards were unable to capitalize … because a series of ineffective screens and dribble penetration to nowhere demanded jump-passes to anywhere else, and Otto Porter ultimately ended up with the ball in his hands from the corner for a 3-pointer. But he missed. He’s making just 28.1 percent of his corner 3s this season. That’s not good!

On the Spurs’ very next possession, Porter again helped off a 3-point shooter. This time it wasn’t Danny Green but Kawhi Leonard to hand-check David West from 19 feet. Porter couldn’t recover in time to contest Leonard’s shot, but The Future of San Anton’ missed, which led color commentator (and former Spurs wing) Sean Elliot to say, “You’re surprised when it doesn’t go in.” And he’s right! Especially this year, one in which Leonard leads the league in 3P%: .489.

Again, even after a Spurs miss (by Leonard), the Wizards kept themselves down. Gortat and Humphries battled each other for the rebound, neither won possession, and the ball bounced weakly out of bounds … and then West inbounded to Aldridge who swished an open midrange jumper (Gortat was slow to close out).

Next: Gary Neal drove the lane, instead of settling for a midrange J, but missed a lefty layup. Gortat missed the putback bunny and demanded a foul, while West snagged the ball, passed to Parker, who pushed an outlet pass to find Green, who snuck by Oubre (half-asleep) and beat Gortat at the rim with a reverse layup. The Spurs, then shooting 9-for-12 in the quarter, led 75-60.

Timeout Wizards.

Wall free throws—made both. Then Green, wide-open in the far corner, beat two Wizards players to the rebound off a Leonard midrange miss from the wing, tipped the ball to Parker, then set up above the break, received a pass from Parker, and swished a 3 … because Dudley and Neal were unaware of Green’s existence or simply slow to close out.

Then—yes, you guessed it! Wall waited for Neal to come off soft screen action so he could miss a long 2 with 12 seconds left on the clock. But this nice thing happened on the next Wizards possession:

Gortat then showed some defensive ability, swatting Tony Parker’s layup attempt at the rim, but West, defended by Dudley, scored directly off Diaw’s inbounds pass: a layup under the rim.

Neal free throws, followed by a Kelly Oubre three-second violation that produced this here #WittmanFace (quite defeated, compared to the one above):

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.22.58 PM

[Later third-quarter #WittmanFace]

Wall then turned it over, caught in the air and surrounded by three Spurs players, and turned it over. The Spurs did not convert on the other end, but the Wizards didn’t score anything when they got the ball back. The offensive action involved Marcin Gortat with the ball, isolated, 18 feet from the basket … with four Wizards looking on like swim coaches. Wall ended up shooting a step-back jumper as the shot clock expired, but missed.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.27.05 PM

[#Cool offense here.]

On the other end: Wall, for a reason I can neither fathom nor explain, found himself in the paint when his man was Manu Ginobili, who never left his spot behind the arc above the break … until, of course, Wall tried to close out. Manu could have taken the 3, but zipped by Wall and found Aldridge cutting for an easy layup over Gortat.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 11.28.47 PM

[#Cool defense here.]

Down 83-67, the Wizards ran another pindown for Neal. Wall passed Neal the ball with a handful of seconds left on the clock, then Neal found Gortat, who shot a fadeaway that missed as the shot clock expired.

On the other end: Neal failed to get a hand up on Manu’s 3-point attempt, but Manu missed anyway.

John Wall gathered the ball and … well, hung around near the scorer’s table until there were seven seconds left on the shot clock. Gortat ambled out to set a screen, but the pick-and-roll was covered, so Wall passed to Neal, who dished immediately to Gortat, who missed a midrange J.

A Wall midrange jump shot made it 71-83, and a turnover by San Antonio gave the Wizards a chance to make it a 10-point game going into the fourth. Wall initiated a pick-and-roll with Gortat with nine left on the shot clock, then dished to Neal, who missed a floater. Then Wall and Oubre were lax in covering Ginobili, who stepped into the ‘backbreaking’ third-quarter 3 from that familiar spot behind the arc that all but ended the game.

That is how it happened. That is how the Wizards died.

What was seen, twice by this blogger, was either a defensive scheme that produces an extraordinary amount of open 3s for opponents, or insolence from players who too often choose to not follow a coach’s orders. Either way, it was frustrating to see after the Wizards spent two hours before the game watching film and drilling defensive techniques.

That said, on at least one occasion, John Wall could be heard calling out a Spurs play and the Wizards ended up holding them scoreless on that possession, which is awesome, but that 24-second victory is not representative of a thorough and—this season at least—routine defeat.

The offense … well, there are so many issues, some of which have been outline above. But the two most glaring, in this one, are the combined 3-point attempts from Gary Neal (.453) and Jared Dudley (.470), who is shooting better than Steph Curry from downtown. That total? Zero. In 41 minutes.

I didn’t realize it was already spring of 2014.


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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.