Don’t Test or Cross the Basketball Gods — Wizards vs Timberwolves, DC Council 72 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Don’t Test or Cross the Basketball Gods — Wizards vs Timberwolves, DC Council 72

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Updated: March 26, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs Timberwolves, Game 72, March 25, 2016, from Washington, D.C., via Rashad Mobley (@rashad20).

That Game Was …

A reminder that the basketball gods reign supreme. The late, great Flip Saunders, who coached both the Washington Wizards and the Minnesota Timberwolves (Friday night’s opponent), once said after a loss to the Toronto Raptors, “The basketball gods … I always say they have a way of equaling things.”

In the game that Coach Saunders was referencing, the Wizards started slowly and trailed the Toronto Raptors 20-5 six minutes into the game. They fought back, only to lose in overtime via a tough shot by Hedo Turkoglu.

Coach Randy Wittman, who was a good friend of Coach Saunders and also a Wizards assistant coach during that Raptors game in 2009, must have been experiencing déjà vu all over again, because he applied that same logic to Washington’s double-overtime loss to the Timberwolves.

“We couldn’t close it out. We missed three wide-open shots, they made three. It didn’t come down to the last minutes, we lost the game in the first half, the way we came out and played absolutely zero defense and allowed them to feel good about themselves and get into the game. Allow them 62 points in the first half again, that’s not a formula for us … that was absolutely one of the worst end-of-the-game defensively in the first half as we can have. And against a young team like that, you give them life, you give them belief.

“[My players] look at me like I’m crazy sometimes, like it doesn’t happen. Yeah, it does happen, trust me I’ve been there. I’ve been on teams like that, young teams that you jump on and you see it in their eyes, they’re done. Or you see it in their eyes, ‘Oh, we’ve got a chance here.’ And when you put up 62 points you believe you have a chance.”

The Wizards shot 56 percent from the field in the first half, including 53 percent from the 3-point line. The Timberwolves shot just 27.3 percent from the 3-point line, but many of their misses were of the wide-open variety. The Minnesota confidence Coach Wittman spoke about was due to their 55 percent shooting from the field—mainly because rookie Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine combined to score 26 points on 60 percent shooting (12-20 FG) from the field.

The Wizards also gave the Timberwolves life by once again playing poor pick-and-roll defense, particularly when rookie Tyus Jones was running the point. Jones had no problem getting by either Ramon Sessions or John Wall, and once he was in the lane he would draw a foul, take his shot, or find the open man. He had eight points and four assists in just seven minutes of play. The Timberwolves offset their poor 3-point shooting in the first half with 26 points in the paint.

At the half, the two teams were tied at 62. And Andrew Wiggins, the Timberwolves leading scorer at 20.6 points per game, had just two points. Minnesota had every reason to be confident.

With 2:23 left in the fourth quarter, the Wizards led 108-101, but then allowed Gorgui Dieng to score six points—including just his fourth made 3-pointer of the season (in 18 attempts) to tie the game. The Wizards spoon-fed the Timberwolves confidence with a 24-second violation and a missed free throw by Nene.

The game went into overtime. The Wizards took a 119-115 lead with 27 seconds left, but they allowed Zach LaVine to hit consecutive 3-point shots to tie the score with 11.8 seconds left. Bradley Beal had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but missed an open shot. “That’s kind of a psychological blow,” Comcast SportsNet’s Phil Chenier said. His broadcast partner, Steve Buckhantz, chimed in: “Well, that’s two psychological blows, because they had a seven-point lead in regulation with 2:20 to play.”

The Wizards held the Timberwolves scoreless for the first two minutes of the second overtime. Then Beal made consecutive 3-pointers to give the Wiz a five-point lead with 2:13 left. But then Washington allowed the Timberwolves to go on an 8-o run to end the game. Gortat had a chance to win the game, but missed two free throws—free throws he arguably should have never earned, considering Wall passed up an open layup to pass him the ball. Beal had another chance to win the game moments later, but he could not shake Karl-Anthony Towns near the 3-point line.

Ball game.

The Wizards were unable to put it away early, the Timberwolves gained confidence as the game progressed, and they were rewarded by the basketball gods.

M.V.P.

Karl Anthony Towns had his 43rd double-double this season with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. He was able to score against Markieff Morris (before he left with a calf injury), Gortat, Nene, and Jared Dudley. Towns started hot, 5-for-7, then faltered a bit, shooting 1-for-8 during a stretch over the third and fourth quarters. But he bounced back, going 6-for-6 to end the game. While all of those stats are M.V.P.-worthy, Towns earned this award in the second overtime period.

First, he did his best Steph Curry impression by lining up a 3-pointer, losing John Wall with subtle ball fake, and then stepping back to nail the trey to tie the game at 124. The Timberwolves had been scoreless in the overtime period up to that point.

Then, with 11.6 seconds left, Towns set a screen on Garrett Temple, and rolled to the basket after the Wizards switched on the pick-and-roll and inexplicably forgot to account for him. Towns scored the easy layup—and really should have gotten a free throw attempt after John Wall hit him on the back of the head. The Timberwolves led 132-129.

The Wizards called timeout and Randy Wittman drew up a play to free Bradley Beal for 3. Towns started off guarding Nene, but then switched to cover Beal. Towns denied Wall’s quick entry pass to Beal and forced the 2-guard to catch the ball nearly at half court. Then Towns defended the the 3-point line perfectly and Beal wasn’t allowed to get off a shot—eventually, he had to throw a desperation pass to Jared Dudley, who shot and missed an even more desperate 3-pointer as time expired.

Zach LaVine hit some big shots, as did Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins, but it was the play on both ends of the floor by Towns which ultimately was the difference.

L.V.P.

It seems unfair to place the scarlet L.V.P. letters on the chest of Bradley Beal, given he put up 26 points, five assists, and five rebounds, and played a season-high 45 minutes. But as Coach Wittman alluded to in his postgame presser, the Wizards lost the game in the first half, and Beal and Wall came up smallest in the first quarter.

While Karl-Anthony Towns was carving up Markieff Morris and Nene for 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, Beal was 0-for-2 from the field and scored just one point from the free throw line. On some plays, he was used as a decoy to get Gortat and Morris easy shots, but on other possessions he seemed content to dribble around the perimeter and be deferential with the ball. The more ineffective Beal was on offense, the more his body language began to show frustration, which seemed to have carried over from Wednesday night, when he scored just seven points on eight shots in a loss to the Hawks.

To Beal’s credit, he caught fire in the second quarter, going 6-for-6 from the field (2-2 from the 3-point line) and scored 15 of the Wizards’ 33 points. Beal then nullified that Herculean performance by going scoreless in the third and fourth quarters. He took just four shots in nearly 19 minutes of play, and did not attempt a single free throw during that span. In fact, after his second-quarter scoring binge, Beal did not score another point until he made a layup with 1:14 left in the first overtime.

At the end of the second overtime, Beal could not shake Towns to get off a 3-pointer, minutes after the Timberwolves’ Zach LaVine did so twice to keep his team alive.

After the game, Beal said that the team as a whole needed to play “desperate” and with a “sense of urgency,” but he didn’t take his own advice on a night when his team really needed him.

X-Factor.

Bradley Beal may have been passive and nearly invisible in the first quarter, but Markieff Morris was the exact opposite. He had seven points and three rebounds in nine minutes of play. And more importantly, he was making Towns work on the defensive end of the floor by floating inside and out. But Morris injured his calf toward the end of the quarter and did not return to the game.

Morris’ absence enabled Coach Wittman to unveil the Nene/Gortat frontline yet again, and Nene responded with one of his better games of the season (19 points). The better Nene looked, the more comfortable Wittman was with leaving him on the floor, and while the Wizards were ahead and not in need of game-winning or game-tying 3s, that approach was perfectly acceptable.

But on the game’s final play, it was Nene who set the screen to free Beal for a possible game-winning shot, not Morris who was injured and, inexplicably, not Dudley, who did not get a shot attempt until the last possible second. Nene was not a threat to make a shot outside of 18 feet, so Karl-Anthony Towns did not think twice about leaving Nene to smother Beal.

It is unclear when Morris will return to the Wizards lineup. It is even more uncertain whether Coach Wittman will continue to rely on Nene to fill that void. But with the season hanging in the balance (the Wizards are 3.5 games behind the Detroit Pistons with 10 games remaining), wouldn’t it somehow be fitting that the Wizards postseason chances will partly rest on the Nene/Gortat duo that wasn’t even supposed to play together this season?

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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.