The Wizards Race Past Indy on Last Turn
Throughout the John Wall era, the Wizards have rarely been showcased on TNT, ESPN, or ABC. That has been a sore spot for Washington fans.
Of course, the old adage “Respect is earned, not given” rings true, and your 2016-17 Washington Wizards are finally, and deservingly, gaining reverence: a national audience got to see this improved basketball team with booked home games against formidable foes in Cleveland (TNT) and Indiana (ESPN). While the odds are still long for the ‘Zards to win a championship, NBA pundits are now nominating them to take on LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. This was not happening even a week ago.
In this new discourse of raised expectations, the Wizards were challenged against Indiana on Friday evening at the Phone Booth. The Pacers entered the game having won seven out of their last eight games and were 14-5 since the the last time these two squads faced off in late December. Behind clutch play of Wall and Bradley Beal, along with dominant frontcourt performances from Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris, Washington defeated Indiana 112-107.
In the first half, neither team sustained complete control and little defense was played. The Pacers bench, led by ex-Wizard Kevin Serpahin, fueled a 14-0 run to help Indiana build a seven-point advantage. Washington responded, with Wall creating in transition, and at halftime the game was tied at 59.
The intensity picked up in the third quarter. Wall found Gortat on two gorgeous passes and he nailed an incredible step-back 3 that sent the home fans into a frenzy. Indiana’s second unit kept them afloat, as Paul George started heating up. With Otto Porter plagued by foul trouble, Jason Smith, Tomas Satoransky and Trey Burke contributed in significant ways. In successive sequences to close out the third quarter, Smith had a highlight dunk, Satoransky stole the ball and found a streaking Burke for the lay-up. Washington took a five-point lead into the fourth quarter.
This contest came down to crunch time—Washington excelled while Indiana wilted. Morris, who sat out last game versus the Nets, hit a money 3-ball and tipped out a missed free throw, winning his team another key possession. Morris finished with 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting (3-6 on 3s), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and plus-16 in plus/minus. Wall and Beal together poured in 17 fourth-quarter points, with John putting the game away from the free throw line (7-10 FTs).
In their post-game media interviews, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said the game was decided by Washington out-hustling them for loose balls and on the glass. Gortat had two outstanding late tip-ins, and he and Morris combined for 26 rebounds (10 offensive, as many as the entire Pacers team). Gortat labeled the Morris-Machine frontcourt as the “Phoenix Outlaws,” due to their previous time together with the Suns.
The Wizards now leads the Pacers 2-1 in their season series and have a chance to win it outright next Thursday in Indiana. Washington will host Oklahoma City on Monday night, a chance for payback from their disappointing overtime defeat to the Thunder last November.
Washington’s run of fantastic basketball continues to produce weird feelings among followers of this team. The natural reaction is to get hyped on the success but the nasty habit of waiting for bad things to happen is hard to shake. We all have contributed to the #SoWizards hashtag. However, the victories are becoming routine and the stakes will be raised, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. This team has a chance to be special.
“It was a big win against them, but we have them again next week so it’s going to be a big game to try and win the whole series against them. They’re a tough team, they’re a great team at home. We just have to keep playing well and defending.”
“Felt good man. Had about three to four days off. Made some shots.
“At halftime, coach came in and said they were shooting 58 percent from the floor tonight and we had to clean that up—hold them, I think, to like 44 or 48 points in the second half. That’s better than the first half.”
“We wanted to really come out and get back on track. We had a tough one in Brooklyn—a game we felt like we should not have gone into overtime but it did. We just wanted to come back home and make sure we got off to an even better start, get our streak back on. We got one down, but it is going to get tougher. We won this game, we can move on now…
“Our defense, it is the same thing: We were not being physical enough. I think we only had like four fouls or something at the half, and that is usually the total opposite of us. We are usually hacking teams so we did a better job of just coming out the second half being physical, making them uncomfortable, making them take some tougher shots.”
Coach Scott Brooks:
“I told our guys from the start of the season, that our job is to play hard and play for each other, and let everything work itself out. We didn’t have the good start that we wanted, but the thing I loved about the start is not one guy made an excuse.
“I think cities get behind teams that don’t make excuses and leave everything on the floor, and play for each other. That’s what’s happening as this season has progressed, you see that in our crowd. Our crowds are becoming more engaged and locked in, and are excited. Our players are feeling it. The last two games here have been great—other than we lost the last game. Our crowd is a big part of our success on our home floor.”
“We got stops and made them miss shots but couldn’t secure rebounds. They got second-chance baskets that . . . we weren’t tough enough. This has been an issue for us all season. Got to get grittier, we got to get nasty on these boards. We’re just not tough enough.”
Coach Nate McMillan:
“They beat us to the ball 14 times and had 20 second-chance points. They’re winning the hustle game and you know you can’t lose that…
“They have a lot of talent on that team, a number of guys playing well. [Otto] Porter [Jr.] has been playing well, he got in foul trouble. Morris comes back tonight, has a solid game for them. Gortat does his usual thing, just solid screening and rebounding. You got Wall and Beal playing well. We know (Morris) is capable to score and he made some shots over the defense tonight.”
[Photos via Monumental Sports.]
You create your own luck.pic.twitter.com/akyfze4zJN
— 8 Points, 9 Seconds (@8pts9secs) February 11, 2017
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) February 11, 2017
Jalen Rose: What's the reason for the turnaround, going 16-3 in the last 19 games?
John Wall: ME
— Troy Haliburton (@TroyHalibur) February 11, 2017