Grand Opening, Weak Closing — Wizards vs Pacers, DC Council 62 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Grand Opening, Weak Closing — Wizards vs Pacers, DC Council 62

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Updated: March 6, 2016

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards vs. Cavaliers, Game 62, March 6, 2016 from the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., via Rashad Mobley  (@rashad20).

That Game … Can’t Be Blamed On Bradley Beal’s Injury

Coaches, even more so than players, have the remarkable ability to downplay the importance of a game, no matter how massive the mountain of evidence is to sharply declare otherwise. They roll out platitudes like “gotta take it one game at a time,” or “every game is important,” and also “we’re just focused on us.” As true as each of those statements may be inside any given coach’s locker room, it comes off as tone deaf and a tad bit disingenuous. (It also drives the media crazy.)

Prior to last night’s Wizards vs. Pacers game, both Randy Wittman and Frank Vogel shed their poker faces, placed their #CoachSpeak on ice, and demonstrably (for them) communicated that this was indeed a big game. Coach Vogel admitted that he was a “standings watcher,” even writing that this game was “huge” on the locker room whiteboard.

Wittman knew this was a big game, because he finally re-inserted Bradley Beal into the starting lineup for the first time since February 11 (a little nugget he failed to mention to the media before tip-off). Coach Wittman did have this to say:

“If we win we’re a half-game behind them with the tiebreaker, which really means we’re a half-game ahead of them. If they win, they’re two and a half up with the tiebreaker, which is really three and a half, so it’s really a four-game swing.”

A big game means a playoff-type atmosphere, big performances from All-Stars, and the shedding of those pesky self-destructive habits which have kept the Pacers on the bottom of the playoff picture and the Wizards on the outside looking in.

For the first 21 minutes and 41 seconds of the first half, the Wizards played like a playoff team.

They led 59-45 with 2:19 left in the first half, thanks in part to John Wall’s 13 points, but mainly because of his ability to distribute the ball. Wall had seven assists, and all 10 of the Wizards players who played up to that point had two or more points. In addition to the offense, Alan Anderson and Garrett Temple did yeoman’s work on the defensive end of the floor, holding Paul George scoreless to that point in the second quarter—after he scored 14 first-quarter points, however.

Both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back, which meant energy was at a premium. If the Wizards could go into halftime with 14-point lead or better, they would likely put the game away early in the third quarter and secure ever-elusive rest for Wall and Beal. Instead, the Wizards got careless.

First, George slipped the previously stifling defense of Anderson and scored five points on consecutive offensive possessions in a nine-second span. Thirty seconds later, after a missed Monta Ellis 3-pointer, the Wizards failed to secure the defensive rebound, allowing rookie Myles Turner to get an easy put-back to cut the Wizards’ lead to eight points. Fifteen seconds later, after Wall hit two free throws, Ellis scored four points on two midrange jumpers to cut the Wizards’ lead to six points.

Bradley Beal hit a tough fadeaway jumper from the corner to end the half. The Wiz led by eight.

Instead of going into halftime with a hint of desperation and a 14-point deficit, the Pacers went into the locker room confident and only down by single digits. Frank Vogel said after the game that he told his team that they were a stronger defensive effort away from winning the game, which turned out to be quite a prescient statement.

The Pacers held the Wizards to just 16 third-quarter points and 35 second-half points overall—they scored 37 in the first quarter. The Pacers kept the game within single digits in the third quarter, and by the time the fourth quarter started they trailed by just two points. The Pacers were already feeling confident and building momentum by the time Beal injured his pelvis with 6:17 left in the third quarter. His injury did speed up the Wizards’ demise.

Beal’s health, some made free throws by Nene and Wall, a fluid second-half offense, and tighter defense may have very well won this game for the Wizards. But the reality is they let it slip away at the end of the second quarter and remain outside of the playoff picture.

M.V.P.

He had seven turnovers, he tried to do too much at times once Beal left with an injury, and he is still overly demonstrative on seemingly innocuous individual triumphs. But make no mistake about it, the Wizards were in the game because of John Wall.

He played the entire first quarter, setting the tone by accounting for 30 of the Wizards’ 37 points in the opening stanza, including 12 fastbreak points (an element of the Wizards’ game which was non-existent the previous night in Cleveland). And while Garrett Temple has been a fine offensive player this season, he has struggled to score effectively since the All-Star break. Beal’s return to the offense offered more offensive firepower and it gave Wall more room to roam, create and score.

Even in the fourth quarter, after Beal was out and the Wizards looked flustered and impotent on offense, it was Wall who attempted to get them back up. And he succeeded. The Wizards trailed 91-87 with 4:30 left in the game, when Wall baited Solomon Hill into a foul. He hit the shot and the accompanying free throw to bring the Wizards within one point. Forty seconds later, he pulled off this incredible shot to give the Wizards a one-point lead:

Wall finished with 25 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals but also a cringeworthy 7 turnovers. He missed a free throw which would have tied the game with 41 seconds left, and maybe he should not have passed to Nene (who is shooting just 58-percent from the free throw line this season) off a pick-and-roll with 10.8 seconds left in the contest. But as has been the case in most games this season, win or lose, the Wizards simply would have been deep in the red without Wall’s heroics.

Here’s Wall on why the Wizards struggled in the second half:

L.V.P.

Otto Porter scored Washington’s first six points of the night against the Pacers in a three-minute span, which is seemingly a good thing. Porter has grappled with a lack of offensive consistency and aggressiveness all season (and for his entire career), so it must have been encouraging for Coach Wittman to see the opposite. Apparently, Coach Wittman was not as impressed with Porter’s defensive effort.

Porter surrendered 10 points to the Pacers’ Paul George in a little less than seven minutes of first-quarter play. George hit pull-up jumpers, a 3-point shot and floaters, while Porter offered zero resistance. He was pulled at the 4:45 mark and he did not return the remainder of the half.

Porter played 8:22 in the third quarter but by that time his confidence was gone and he was buried under the intensified Pacers defense—and George scored four more points on him for good measure. Porter went scoreless with an assist and two fouls in the third quarter, and he had a 3:55 cup of coffee in the fourth. George ended up with 38 points, and even if Porter magically morphed into Bruce Bowen, George would have still gotten his offense in gear. But in a big game with bigger implications, Coach Wittman quickly lost faith in him.

X-Factor.

Alan Anderson sat out the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with soreness, but returned against the Pacers to score nine points in 23 minutes. He did a great job of overplaying Paul George on the perimeter, and got away with holds and grabs to prevent him from uncontested looks (a skill Porter hasn’t grasped). If not for a questionable foul where George appeared to lose the ball with minimal contact, Anderson may very well have been the hero of the game. He did not stop George but he helped to contain him, which says quite a lot considering how little he’s played this season.

But this X-Factor award goes to Garrett Temple.

Temple showed up to the arena earlier than usual (I arrived at 4:45 p.m. and Temple was already in a full lather) was taking every type of offensive shot imaginable. He worked on pull-up shots, attempts off imaginary picks, 3-pointers, layups, dunks, shots after crossovers dribbles, and he did it all while maintaining a running dialogue with Wizards fans, staff and even a few members of the media. It is unclear if he knew Beal was starting in his place at that time, but regardless, Temple was practicing like a man on a redemption mission.

He entered the game for Bradley Beal with 2:51 left in the first quarter and he made his mark a few minutes later by scoring five points in 30 seconds to extend the Wizards’ lead from one point to five.

Temple scored just six points the remainder of the game, and had a scoreless third quarter, but he more than made up for it with his defensive intensity on Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, but most importantly Paul George.

When George attempted to push Temple one direction, and run off a pick the opposite way, Temple either fought through the pick or would tug George’s arm or jersey before he could get any separation. When George was on the perimeter, Temple overplayed George all the way out to the 3-point line to deny him possessions. The few times George did get the ball on the perimeter, he took quick shots before feeling Temple’s wrath, or he attempted (and failed ) to take him off the dribble. George was visibly frustrated and on at least two occasions he used both hands to push Temple away from him, then complained to the referees.

George had 38 points on 22 shots (7-for-8 from 3) and hit the game-winning free throws (8-for-8). Temple’s defense probably only prevented a 50-point night (George was on pace for 64 points after his 16-point first quarter), but when the Wizards were struggling offensively in the third and fourth quarters, his ability (and Anderson’s) to make George intermittently disappear kept the Wizards within striking distance right up until the very end.

And in Garrett Temple’s case, he demonstrated a certain level of professionalism by not missing a beat despite (rightfully) losing his starting job to Beal for a night. He worked on his game before tip-off, he found his touch during the game, he played his customary hard-nosed defense, and now with Beal out for a bit, Wittman will have confidence in placing him right back in the starting lineup.

Bradley Beal Update

 Foreshadowing?

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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.