If You Ain’t Woofing, It Ain’t Working — Wizards vs Celtics, DC Council 39 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

If You Ain’t Woofing, It Ain’t Working — Wizards vs Celtics, DC Council 39

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Updated: January 17, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs Celtics, Game 39, Jan. 16, 2016 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., via Sean Fagan (@McCarrick).

M.V.P.

“I shoulda dunked it.”

Such will be the epitaph of the Wizards’ heartrending 119-117 loss to the Boston Celtics and the prevailing thought of John Wall, who missed a layup to send the game into overtime from his preferred position on the left-hand side of the basket. No matter that Wall was the only player on either team (with the possible exception of Isaiah Thomas) fast enough to sprint from from foul line to foul line with a little under three seconds left on the clock. Wall, who admitted that he didn’t think he had the legs to dunk the ball, took the responsibility of the loss entirely upon his own shoulders.

“I knew we didn’t have any timeouts. When I got to the 3-point line, I thought about stopping but I was going fast and I saw 1.2 on the clock… I had no time to slow down, I was just trying to get it on the glass. I wish I would have dunked it, we would’ve have gone to overtime. It just hurts to lose that one. I’m mad that I missed it.”

While Wall’s miss (and Nene’s false hope of a putback) will be the lasting image from the loss, it was Wall’s play that kept the undermanned Wizards (only eight-men deep, unless you count DeJuan Blair’s six seconds) afloat against a Boston team that played 10-men deep and basically attacked Washington in waves. Wall logged 44 minutes on the night (hence, the lack of legs for a dunk attempt) and led all scorers with 36 points on 12-for-25 shooting from the field to go with 7 rebounds, 7 steals, 13 assists, and 6 turnovers.

In the end, it wasn’t enough, and one has to wonder how much more tread can be put on Wall’s tires before we start seeing slippage in his elite level of play. Having to be not only the primary playmaker, but also shoulder the burden of primary scorer and defensive stopper may be too much ask night in and night out during an 82-game season. (Sure, Bradley Beal is working his way back, but this team still comes and goes with Wall.)

And Wall isn’t going to ask for that break and is all too willing to place the blame squarely on his own shoulders. When asked about the play prior to missed layup, in which Jae Crowder put the Celtics up by two (on what looked liked a missed defensive assignment by Kelly Oubre), Wall was quick to deflect blame:

“I don’t think he was trying to white. It was a situation where they popped the ball back to Marcus Smart and [Crowder] is thinking he (Oubre) is about to run to the corner, and he just turned and sealed him. He just threw the perfect pass and it was a situation, understand, where we weren’t expecting it. He was just caught in a bad situation. I don’t think that one play cost us the game. I had a couple of turnovers at the start of the third quarter that hurt us, and we have to put teams away when we have the opportunity.”

Wall’s leadership (not throwing the rookie under the bus) is on display here, and has been throughout the season, but we have yet to find the real culprit for the Wizards’ loss. If we were truly to look for a culprit (or scapegoat) then we should all waggle our fingers at…

L.V.P.

Randy Wittman. It feels unfair to level the criticism at Wittman, whose cupboard is bare in terms of healthy bodies, but many of his rotational decisions were perplexing at best and infuriating at their worst. Wittman insisted on sticking with a lineup of Wall, Gary Neal, Ramon Sessions, Jared Dudley, and Marcin Gortat for a majority of the fourth quarter, with Neal and Sessions being a net negative on the defensive end. Meanwhile, Garrett Temple and the young legs of Kelly Oubre remained stapled to the bench and were only inserted after the Wizards had relinquished the lead and needed claw their way back into the game. Worse still is that Oubre’s “mistake” on Jae Crowder’s game-winning shot gives the coach more ammunition to keep the young small forward affixed to the bench and out of the fire in crunchtime. You could also question Wittman’s decision to leave Dudley on the floor for over 41 minutes (Dudley couldn’t remember the last time he logged that many minutes), past the point of efficacy and so belabored that he was unable to box out the ravening horde of Celtics bigs (Jonas Jerebko in particular) coming off the bench.

But perhaps most worrying is how the Wizards players talked about the Celtics coach, Brad Stevens, and how he “called plays that we had never seen” or “called out our plays which we had never run.” The Wizards seemed mystified by Stevens’ ability to adjust to the Wizards’ every counter move. For the past several seasons, we have made light of the coaching advantage that other teams have held—that Wittman was playing checkers to another coach’s chess. This became a full on meme in last year’s playoffs, when Wittman abruptly switched to a small ball style that fans and pundits had been clamoring for and was dubbed the “Possum King” for only rolling out the strategy at the “right” moment.

Perhaps Wittman is once again fooling us all and perhaps it is unfair to to be too harsh on a coach who hasn’t had a full complement of players since before the season began. However, it is discouraging to hear the Wizards locker room wax rhapsodic about the machinations of a young coach from Boston while in a nearby press room the Wizards’ head coach appeared shell-shocked and incapable of issuing any analysis aside from a string of “ya knows.”

X-Factor.

Marcin Gortat returned to the Wizards active roster and was a quietly efficient 9-for-14 from the field and seemed to be playing at more or less 85 percent of his capabilities (Jared Sullinger, the tortoise that waddles, blew by Gortat twice, so the leg is still not at 100 percent). The majority of Gortat’s 18 points came from put-backs or bunnies, as the Wizards ran only a few set plays for the Polish Machine. Noticeably absent from the Wizards’ game plan was the Wall/Gortat screen-and-roll combination, which had been previously effective throughout the season. The choice may have been due to the uncertain nature of Gortat’s health, but it would behoove the Wizards to call the big man’s number more often, especially on a night where they lacked the services of Bradley Beal.

That game was … a possible future grudge match.

Once you get over the heartbreak, you can only be excited about future Wizards/Celtics matchups because it is fairly obvious that the two teams have a fairly open distaste for one another. John Wall, politic at the worst of times, stated that the Celtics ‘play dirty but they win,’ which was quite the backhanded compliment to insert at the end of one’s interview time. Jae Crowder picked up a technical at the end of the game because Randy Wittman was evidently hurling inappropriate invective at him, despite the fact that Crowder himself had spent most of the night mean-mugging the Wizards bench and doing his best Nene impression. There was Jared Sullinger acting out the part of an enraged bear, and Kelly Olynyk never quite having complete control of his body (with the result being a firm elbow placed in Nene’s eardrum) … the list goes on and on. The point is that the Wizards (who are considered a gritty and outspoken team in their own right) believe that the Celtics play a bit too fast and loose with the rules and are quick to take exception. A possible 4-5 matchup in the playoffs could lead to a fascinating series filled with fireworks and another chance for Randy Wittman to demonstrate how he is constantly underestimated. Antipathy breeds excitement, and the Celtics look poised to fill the void left by the Chicago Bulls, now that primary Wizards antagonist Joakim Noah is out for the season.

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Sean Fagan
Reporter / Writer/Gadfly at TAI
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Sean has contributed to TAI since the the dawn of Jan Vesely and has been on the Wizards beat since 2008. His work has been featured on ESPN, Yahoo and SI.com. He still believes that Mike Miller never got a fair shot.