Another Trap Game Avoided — Wizards Over Bulls, 101-99 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Another Trap Game Avoided — Wizards Over Bulls, 101-99

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Updated: January 11, 2017

For the second time in three nights, the Wizards found themselves facing a dreaded trap game. Sunday, the Wizards faced the Giannis-less Milwaukee Bucks and won 107-101, despite a slow start which saw them surrender 57 first-half points. Last night, the Wizards faced the Chicago Bulls—without Dwyane Wade, who was resting on the second night of a back to back, and Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic due to sickness. (Wizards guard Tomas Satoransky left the Verizon Center prior to the game with a similar illness.)

The basketball flu, along the sidelining of the Bulls’ top offensive threats, meant that Rajon Rondo was in charge. He’d previously not set foot on the floor for the Bulls since the first half of the December 28th game against the Brooklyn Nets. Rondo’s absence had been a bit of a distraction leading up to last night’s game, and he exacerbated the situation by being quite candid to the media before tip-off.

Six minutes into the game it appeared as if the Wizards had listened to their coach’s warning about the trap game and decided to take care of business. They led 19-12, all of the starters scored except Wall (who had four assists during that span), and they committed just one turnover. Then Rondo and Denzel Valentine checked in for Michael Carter-Williams and Doug McDermott, and the Bulls’ momentum shifted drastically.

First, Valentine hit a wide open 3-pointer, then Wall fell victim to a reach-around steal (the very move he’s become so adept at), which led to a breakaway dunk by Rondo. The Wizards called timeout and attempted to regroup, but turned the ball over yet again due to a three-second violation by Marcin Gortat, which led to wide-open corner 3 by Taj Gibson—his first of the season. By the 2:44 mark of the first quarter, Rondo and the Bulls had gone on a 14-0 run to lead the Wizards by seven points. By the end of the quarter, the Bulls led by 10, mainly due to the Wizards’ six turnovers.

The second quarter began even worse than the first quarter had ended, as the Wizards turned the ball over in four of their first seven offensive possessions, and the Bulls converted those turnovers into six points. First, Trey Burke was late closing out on Bobby Portis, who hit a corner 3-pointer, and then a short while later both Jason Smith and Sheldon McClellan lost Valentine in the corner—he hit a 3-pointer of his own to put Chicago up 42-26. Coach Brooks jumped off the bench, threw his hands up and called a timeout to stop the bleeding. That ebb and flow continued the remainder of the second quarter, and the Wizards trailed 61-49 at halftime. The Wizards allowed the Bulls to shoot 8-for-10 from the 3-point line, and they didn’t help their own case by committing 13 turnovers—seven coming from Beal and Wall.

Beal said that while he and his teammates walked into the locker room, they knew before the coach said anything that they needed to improve their level of play on both ends of the floor.

Markieff Morris was a little more blunt with his assessment of the play of he and his colleagues:

Once the third quarter began, the roles reversed, and the Bulls played like the shorthanded team they were, allowing the Wizards to establish the dominance they should have demonstrated from the opening tip. The Bulls committed four turnovers in the first four minutes of the quarter, and the Wizards converted that into seven points and cut the lead from 12 points to five. Wall and Beal combined to score 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting and the Wizards committed just two turnovers in the quarter, while the Bulls went 0-for-9 from 3-point range while committing six turnovers of their own. The Wizards led 81-77 and it appeared as if they we were well on their way to establishing a bit of separation in the fourth quarter.

Then the mercurial Wizards bench decided to show off their bad side:

After a Gortat hook shot put the Wizards up by five points—their largest lead since the first quarter—Jason Smith and Trey Burke missed consecutive shots, and Michael Carter-Williams and Portis hit both of their attempts to cut the lead to one point. Then Burke turned the ball over on consecutive possessions and Portis and Valentine scored to give the Bulls a one-point lead. Markieff Morris (a starter), then lost Portis in the corner for a wide open 3-pointer, and Burke committed a reach-in foul after Carter-Williams drove right by him and hit both free throws. After a missed Beal layup, Valentine hit yet another step back 3-pointer, which Oubre lazily contested and the Wizards suddenly trailed by seven points.

Coach Brooks angrily called a timeout, and Valentine went a bit overboard in his celebration which drew the ire of John Wall, who said after the game that he went up to Valentine and said, “That’s how you feel?”

Morris said after the game he didn’t hear or see Valentine’s excessive celebration, but he added that if he had seen it he would have “been pissed the fuck off, and fouled the shit out of [Valentine].”

After Brooks’s timeout and Valentine’s demonstrative actions, the Wizards proceeded to go on a game-ending 16-7 run. Morris scored eight of the Wizards’ next 1o points to give the Wizards a three-point lead before fouling out of the game on a questionable offensive foul. Then, after a Gortat putback layup, John Wall scored four points on two tough fadeaway jumpers, the last of which gave the Wizards the lead for good:

As Coach Brooks said after the game “a win is a win,” and ultimately it doesn’t matter how much the Wizards struggled to beat a shorthanded, troubled, depleted team—all terms used to describe the Bulls on Tuesday night. The victory pushed the Wizards over .500 for the first time since November of 2015, and they are now sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, ahead of the Bucks and just a half game behind the Indiana Pacers for fifth place.

Wall, who Brooks called “a winner” after the game, had a team-high five turnovers, but he also had 26 points, 14 assists, and six rebounds in the win. Beal and Morris (more on him later) had 19 points each and both Jason Smith gave the bench a boost with seven points, six rebounds, and three blocked shots.

As my colleague Conor Dirks wrote in the Bulls/Wizards opening statements, beating shorthanded teams does not a great team make; however, Eddie Jordan once told the media that nut harvesting—aka racking up wins against struggling teams—comes in handy later in the season when games get tougher and banged-up teams get healthier. The Wizards have racked up two such wins this week and tonight they can balance that out by trying to win a measuring stick game against the Boston Celtics, who are coming off a tough eight-point loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Notes:

  • The good and bad traits of Markieff Morris were on display last night against the Bulls. The bad? He fouled out of the game in just 21 minutes of play.  The last foul was looked like more of a flop on Taj Gibson than a real foul, but the other five were less ambiguous. But offensively, Morris was efficient by scoring 19 timely points. Eight of them came at the start of the third quarter the when the Wizards cut the Bulls lead from 10 points to five, and eight of the his points came in the middle of the fourth quarter when the Wizards went from trailing by four. Here was Scott Brooks on the play of Morris:

And here is Morris on finally getting above .500 and how the Wizards should have played in the       first half:

  • Jason Smith had eight points and six rebounds but it was his three blocked shots that impacted the game the most. The first blocked shot came in the third quarter when the Wizards were in the midst of making a run and trying to reclaim the lead. He thwarted a Robin Lopez drive, which led to a Trey Burke 3-pointer and a Fred Hoiberg timeout:

Smith’s other two blocks did not lead to points, but they did keep the Bulls from regaining any momentum in the pivotal final quarter. Collectively, the Wizards bench has lacked consistent offensive and defensive punch but it must be semi-comforting to Coach Brooks that in the past two weeks Oubre, Burke and now Smith have all shown they are capable of carrying the bench and assisting the team to victory. Baby steps.

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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.