The Wizards Fly In and Out of Comfort Zone in Houston | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Wizards Fly In and Out of Comfort Zone in Houston

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Updated: January 3, 2017

With 2:37 left in the 2nd quarter, the Houston Rockets drew a delay of game penalty. Possession went back to the Wizards and an official timeout was called. As the Comcast SportsNet duo of Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier came back from commercial, they both pointed to how impressed with they were with the Wizards’ play up to that point (they led 51-38):

“I dare say that so far, this is the best performance we have seen from this Washington team this year. They’ve had some good games, but right now they are playing crisp on both ends of the court.” —Buckhantz

“What I like about it is offensively, they are not going outside of their own world. They are doing those things that they’ve been doing during that stretch that they’ve been playing so well. Defensively they stuck to the border (the 3-point line). One thing I’d like to see them do is cut down on the turnovers.” —Chenier

The Wizards had six turnovers but Houston (43% from the floor and just 22% from behind the arc up to that point) could not make the Wizards pay for their carelessness. A minute after Chenier made his comment, Wall dribbled the ball off his foot. It was picked up by Trevor Ariza, who then passed it up to James Harden, who was unable to convert the easy layup.

The sequence was emblematic of Houston’s entire first half. The Rockets were out of rhythm on offense, Harden was just 2-of-11 from the field, but Washington grew stagnant at the end and was unable to extend their lead while Houston was down. Wall missed a tip, Bradley Beal missed a layup (he was hit but no foul was called), Marcin Gortat missed a tough turnaround jumper in the lane, and Wall underestimated the length of Montrezl Harrell and got his shot blocked. Yes, the Wizards led by 12 at halftime, but their shooting fell off a cliff, from 59 to 37 percent, and despite Washington’s dominance for much of the quarter, the lead should have been closer to 20, not 12.

Once the third quarter began it was clear that the Wizards’ slowed pace and increased turnover rate was not at an anomaly. It was a trend that cost them the lead before it cost them the game.

Markieff Morris made a bad pass to Gortat on one end, and then committed a bad foul on Harden on the other end, which cut the lead to 10 points. After Beal hit a tough 3, Ariza matched him by hitting a tough 3 in the face of Wall to cut the lead to nine points.

Beal, caught up in the competition with his former teammates Ariza and Nene, took a contested 3-pointer just three seconds into the shot clock on his next trip down the floor and missed. The next offensive possession, Gortat and Beal had two-man game opportunity, but instead of rolling toward the basket for a layup as he had done in the first half, Gortat tried to kick the ball out to the perimeter. It instead landed out of bounds in between Wall and Morris. After a kicked ball by the Wizards, Ryan Anderson drilled a 3-pointer over the outstretched hands of Morris, and the Wizards lead was down to 55-49. Why, you ask?

The Wizards stopped running because Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni clearly implored his team to get back on defense as a whole, and he must have told his big men to keep one foot in the lane to keep Wall out. The driving and cutting lanes were clogged, forcing Washington into traditional halfcourt sets. This shift nullified Wall’s creativity/speed and put the onus on Gortat, Morris, and Porter to make good decisions. Wall and Beal drifted into hero ball, which created even more turnovers.

Washington’s slowed offensive output allowed the Rockets to dictate the pace, and the cold shooting that was so pervasive in the first half turned into the polar opposite. Houston shot 72 percent in the third quarter, led by Eric Gordon who entered the game with 6:27 left in the quarter and proceeded to go 4-for-4 from the field, including 3-for-3 from the 3-point line.

The sequence that best demonstrated how much mojo the Wizards had lost since the first quarter came with 5:50 left in the third. For one possession, Wall shunned the slow pace he’d been showing in the second and third quarters and sprinted down the court after a missed shot by Harden. He got in the lane and absorbed a slight bump from Gordon but missed the layup. Gordon then got the ball, sprinted down the court, faked a 3-pointer, leaving Morris biting on air, and then drove the ball to the basket to cut the Wizards’ lead to six points.

That sequence was seemingly the catalyst for Houston’s progression and Washington’s total regression. The Rockets — led by Harden (3 points) and Gordon (6 points) — went on a 12-2 run and were up by five points after starting the half trailing by 12. The Wizards stopping the running and cutting which had gotten them their seemingly cushy double-digit lead and instead opted for a more sedentary version of offense which involved Porter, Wall, and Beal taking and missing 3s that weren’t in the flow of the offense. Their lead was gone, as was their confidence, and the Rockets were more than happy to take control of the game.

It sounds cliché when athletes tell journalists that if they simply play their game, they will be victorious regardless of what the other team does, but this Rockets/Wizards game may have proved the theory.  Had the Wizards kept running, cutting, and pushing the pace, the Rockets would have to overcome a 20-point lead, an uphill task even with 72 percent shooting from the field in a quarter. Instead, they fell in love with their 3-point shot, they didn’t adjust to the Rockets intensity, and they lost a very winnable game on the road.

To the untrained eye, this loss could quite easily be placed at the feet of the bench. After a sparkling performance against the Brooklyn Nets (50 points), the Wizards bench mustered just 13 points (Kelly Oubre went scoreless in 23 minutes but made meaningful contributions in the intangibles department) — especially when Gordon gave the Rockets 31 points off the bench. But on a night when Harden went just 6-for-24, and the Rockets played about as poorly as humanly possible for the first 20 minutes of the game, the Wizards starters should have been enough.

The Wizards now have less than 24 hours to shun that disappointment and get ready for a matchup against a lowly but dangerous and increasingly hungry Dallas Mavericks team.

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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.