Wizards Fade Themselves Into 17 Straight Losses in San Antonio | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Fade Themselves Into 17 Straight Losses in San Antonio

Updated: December 3, 2016

Without context, the Washington Wizards, coming off a tough overtime road loss in Oklahoma City two nights earlier, fought one of the best teams in the NBA—perhaps the best franchise that we’ll know in our lifetime—in a game that came down to one possession.

Over the last 60 seconds, the Wiz exchanged a total of 10 points with the San Antonio Spurs. A Wizards star, Bradley Beal, hit a 3 to put his team up 103-102. A Spurs sharpshooter, Danny Green, answered with his own 3. Washington’s franchise player, John Wall, sliced down the lane for a layup to tie the game. San Antonio’s star, Kawhi Leonard, answered in seemingly his favorite scenario: an isolation long 2 near the top-of-the-key with the defender back-peddling.

With six seconds left, down two and the ball side out, Washington ran action against a stifling Spurs defense, which perhaps gets more credit than it deserves on this one play considering how disorganized the Wizards looked. Still, 2013’s third overall draft pick, the homegrown Otto Porter, found himself with a lane and a decent look. Porter’s right-handed runner missed; his team lost, 107-105. And that’s how the NBA goes sometimes. Unfortunately, it’s gone that way a lot for the Wizards in San Antonio—their 17th loss in a row there (but the closest contest thus far). Something to build on, one could say, for the 6-12 team from the East.

Now the context.

The Wizards stink. There’s no getting around it, they just plain stink right now. Sure, sometimes they play well, but more times than not they are playing against themselves and undoing their own good deeds on the court.

Washington’s final chance to tie the game is dubious enough. Porter was the inbounder; the ball was thrown to Markieff Morris in the adjacent corner for some reason, and San Antonio’s defense almost threw a blanket over the scrum right then and there to end it. But as the inbounds scene unfolded, Beal, curling toward the ball from the paint, did not gain enough separation from Green. Wall got caught up in screening action with Gortat on the ballside with Leonard in his pocket. Both star guards just sort of faded from the picture as Morris somehow found Porter with a bail-out pass, and Porter somehow found himself with a paint to attack. Can’t blame Porter for the chance, but that last play was akin to carefully preparing a hearty meal of spaghetti for friends and family only to serve it on flimsy paper plates with no garlic bread and asking them to eat it with a straw.

It all seemed really normal. The Wizards fighting hard only to lose in the waning moments. Predictably, Washington bounded out of the gates, using a 15-2 run to build an early 18-7 lead that generally hovered around 8-to-10 points throughout the first quarter. That was until the pick-and-roll defense of Kelly Oubre and Jason Smith versus Manu Ginobili and David Lee created a corner Patty Mills 3-pointer, and soon after that Ginobili completely buzzed Oubre to receive a long inbounds pass and hit a first quarter buzzer-beater off the glass.

The Wizards led 28-24 after one but they also left a ton of points on the board. Wall missed a two-foot layup. Morris missed a three-foot bunny and then followed that up with a point-blank layup miss on the break. Gortat missed a one-foot tip. Trey Burke missed a one-foot layup (swatted from behind). The trend continued into the second quarter when Marcus Thornton missed a layup, and Gortat missed both a putback and a layup right at the basket.

It wasn’t all negative. Or rather, Washington’s starters weren’t imperfect, but they also looked pretty, pret-ty good against a Spurs team that, while missing Tony Parker, can’t exactly be considered short-handed.

Over 30.3 minutes (they average 20.2 minutes per game), the Wizards starters were plus-13, shot 50 percent from the field, 7-for-9 from 3, 12-for-13 on free throws, and had 19 assists to 11 turnovers. The Spurs starters of Nicholas Laprovittola, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol played 14.3 minutes, finished minus-7, shot 37.5 percent, 4-for-11 from 3, 3-for-7 on free throws, and had six assists to four turnovers.

That should be enough to win.

But Washington’s bench continued to victimize the season. The downright criminal foursome of Burke, Thornton, Oubre, and Smith (who spent over 10 minutes on the court together!) actually had some decent moments early in the game. Jason Smith even hit two jumpers in a row at one point. They finished a mere minus-1 in 6.8 first half minutes—perhaps as much as you could ask for, really. But they also peppered their play with several head-smacking moments, and finished minus-6 in 3.7 second half minutes.

[Click-to-watch, if you dare, this terrible close-out by Thornton versus a 39-year-old Ginobili. Thornton is as terrible on defense as he’s ever been and is shooting a career-worst 36 percent from the field.]

There was a particularly absurd span late in the third quarter, catalyzed when Burke and Oubre replaced Wall and Porter, joining Thornton, Smith, and Gortat on the floor. The Wizards had just put David Lee on the line, who tied the game at 73 (at that point, the Wizards were actually up 75-73 after Lee’s free throws; more on that soon). Burke bricked a no-pass possession off the back of the rim and soon after gave up a 3 to Patty Mills. Oubre next dribbled it off his foot and then made a lazy pass to Thornton, just to get rid of the ball. It was stolen, Thornton fouled right away, and Ginobili hit two free throws. Oubre immediately followed that with a turnover while dribbling into a crowd—the Wizards stole the ball right back but then missed two panicked shots on the same possession. Smith then fouled Lee, who also scored the bucket; San Antonio got an offensive board off a missed free throw; and the Wizards were a mess as the Spurs closed the third on what would become a 9-1 run.

[Insult to injury: this unfathomable Jason Smith shot clock buzzer-beater at the 3:42 mark of the third quarter, which at the time put the Wizards up 73-71, was negated upon review during the break before the fourth quarter and taken off the board, giving Washington just 14 points over the third period.]

Scott Brooks small-balled the start of the fourth with Burke, Thornton, Oubre, Porter, and Smith, and they battled to an early 4-4 draw with the Spurs before the starters were inserted (Gortat and Morris at 10:34; Wall at 10:10; and Beal, on a 30-minute restriction, at 9:34). But a sloppy tone had been set and the referee whistles were tight, and often not in favor of the Wizards. San Antonio scored 24 points off 20 Washington turnovers; the Wizards scored 20 points off 15 Spurs turnovers.

Then a Thornton and Oubre foul parade, bad pass turnovers from Morris left and right, and a Wizards backcourt violation turnover after fragmented offense—for crying out loud. Washington quickly went down 78-88 only to claw within 85-88 in two-plus minutes . . . only to get back down 85-94 in another couple minutes. What appeared seamless for the Spurs seemed hard for the Wizards, but they had one more push—a 10-2 run made it a game, 95-96 Spurs, with 3:35 left.

Despite all the missed bunnies, the bad bench, and often poor defense by John Wall, who looked quite stiff on defense throughout the night (perhaps he is playing hurt), the Wizards were right where they wanted to be. Their best traded blows with San Antonio’s best. It was good basketball (for select cuts), let’s not forget.

The starters’ own hard work—work both against the Spurs and their own second unit—became unraveled during times of pressure due to their habitual lack of focus and lack of direction when it comes to what the game is truly all about (putting a peach in a basket). And it came down to one, good, tough possession—one bad break against the sum of all their broken parts.

Washington seemed destined not to win.

The Wizards will trudge against their reality with two days off before facing the Nets in Brooklyn on Monday. Then they’ll face a critical, likely season-defining stretch featuring home games against Orlando, Denver, and Milwaukee; a road game in Miami; then home again versus Charlotte and Detroit before culminating with a Verizon Center duel versus Chris Paul and the L.A. Clippers on Sunday, December 18.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.