The Cardiac Wiz Kids Steal An Overtime Win In Portland
It may be time to recalibrate the ceiling for the 2016-2017 Washington Wizards.
Just one night after defeating the Sacramento Kings in overtime, the Washington Wizards reprised their role as cardiac kids by overcoming a 21-point deficit to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers in controversial fashion (more on that later) in overtime, 125-124. The win was their fifth straight, and the seventh in eight games, and brought their record on this West Coast road trip to 4-0 with one game left. This isn’t the playoffs, Portland is not a playoff team, and surely even Scott Brooks would tell anyone who would listen that the Wizards are far from a finished project. But the ceiling (is not the roof, as Michael Jordan said) is slowly rising as these seemingly improbable victories continue to pile up.
None of this seemed possible after the first 24 minutes of basketball.
John Wall has 21 of the team's 49 points. NO other #Wizard player with more than 6 points.
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) March 12, 2017
Initially, it looked as if there weren’t any residual effects from having played the night before, as the Wizards jumped out to a quick 11-4 lead. Then the switch flipped for Portland. The Wizards failed to close out on the Blazers’ outside shooters, and their interior defense wasn’t much better, and in just under three minutes their seven-point lead evaporated into a two-point deficit, 18-16. Coach Brooks called timeout, but nothing much changed. John Wall scored nine points, Marcin Gortat added seven, and the Wizards shot 61 percent and scored 30 points—but the Blazers shot 65 percent and led 36-30 after the first quarter.
The second quarter presented an opportunity for the newly spry bench to provide the energy the starters lacked, but they scored just three points and looked just as lethargic and uncrisp as the players they replaced. The second unit attempted just two field goals in the first three minutes of the quarter, and by the time Brooks was forced to re-insert all the starters not named Beal, they had only scored three points in four and a half minutes of play. Meanwhile, C.J. McCollum scored 12 points of his own during that span, and Portland’s lead ballooned from six to 17 points.
When John Wall re-entered the game, he caught fire and scored 12 of the Wizards’ next 16 points to cut the Blazers’ lead to seven points. But neither the bench nor his teammates showed any assertiveness on either end of the floor. The Wizards shot a measly 31 percent, while the Blazers sustained their hot first-quarter shooting in the second—they hit 63-percent from the field, mainly due to McCollum’s 17 points in the quarter.
This isn't exactly going out on a limb, but I smell a Portland blowout. The Wiz have nothing and Jordan Crawford isn't coming thru that door
— Rashad Mobley (@rashad20) March 12, 2017
The Blazers ended the half on an 11-0 run and they led by 21 points at intermission. It looked like the combination of four games in five nights, and some offensive potency of their opponent, was going to be too much for even these Wizards to overcome.
Then, during Coach Brooks’s halftime speech, he reminded the Wizards that they were not playing Wizards basketball after the first 24 minutes. And win or lose, he wanted to see that brand of basketball in the second half. The Wizards slowly obliged.
A seemingly refreshed Bradley Beal came out firing in the third quarter to pick up the scoring slack Wall had taken on much of the first half. McCollum and Damian Lillard showed no signs of slowing down, though, so each one of Beal’s 16 third-quarter points were necessary. The Wizards still were not shutting down the Blazers on offense, but they began to close out on the shooters. Washington forced five turnovers and only committed one, and even though the Wizards still trailed by nine heading into the fourth quarter, they had momentum—a concept that didn’t seem possible after a 21-point halftime deficit. The Blazers shooting percentage had plummeted to 42 percent, while the Wizards were up to 66 percent.
The Wizards’ bench may have fallen woefully short in the second quarter, but at the start of the fourth quarter, Brandon Jennings and Bojan Bogdanovic regained the chemistry they had shown flashes of during their brief Wizard tenures. Jennings wasn’t a threat to score but he weaved in and out of traffic to find Bogdanovic three times during a 90-second span, which led to eight points. Bogdanovic’s play, along with the play of Markieff Morris and Otto Porter (who took turns anchoring the bench players), allowed the Wizards to cut the Blazers’ lead from nine points to one, and it appeared as if Washington might steal the game.
But to Blazers Coach Terry Stotts’ credit, he did not call timeouts in response to the Wizards’ run, and when Al-Farouq Aminu hit a 3-pointer to give his team a four-point lead, it was Scott Brooks who had to call timeout. But even after the timeout, Brooks was not able to see one of his infamous out-of-timeout plays come to fruition, because John Wall threw a bad pass, then Lillard hit a 3-pointer, then found Nurkic for an easy basket and the lead went from four to nine points. So many times, when a team has to scratch and claw to close a sizable deficit, the margin for error is so slim and they fall just short of completing the comeback due to the dearth of energy. The Wizards appeared to be resigned to that very fate with four minutes left in regulation.
Then Wall decided to tap into a reserve source of energy.
Even John Wall — who was not supposed to exceed 36, but played 40 mins tonight — said he felt no fatigue in 4th game in 5 nights
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) March 12, 2017
First, he hit a deep 3-pointer from 28 feet, then drew a fifth foul on Lillard and hit two free throws to cut the lead to four points. After a scoreless minute or so from both teams, Wall then hit another 3-pointer with 2:39 left in the game to cut the deficit to one point. But unlike the first half when Wall took over but his teammates watched and did nothing to contribute, he had some help during crunch time.
Beal hit a 3-pointer of his own to put the Wizards up two points, and then Otto Porter got a steal and a layup to put the Wizards up four points. Wall came back with a layup of his own to put his team up six points and, suddenly, the road-weary Wizards were in control.
But after a defensive three-second call against Markieff Morris, a big 3-pointer from Aminu, and two free throws by Jusuf Nurkic via an ill-advised foul by Otto later, the game was tied with 23.3 second left. Scott Brooks drew up a play and Wall had a wide-open shot from the free throw line, but he missed it to send the game to overtime.
This was technically a matchup between the Blazers and the Wizards, but the overtime period morphed into a back and forth between Lillard and Washington’s starters. After losing the ball via a turnover, Lillard seemed work himself into an angry lather, and he began to go on an offensive assault from inside and out. He hit pull-ups, floaters, layups, and 3-pointers, but the Wizards matched him with Wall layup here, a Gortat tip-in there. With 35.7 seconds left in the game, the Blazers led by three points.
Otto Porter’s foul toward the end of the regulation helped Portland extend the game to overtime, but this time Allen Crabbe was in the spotlight—for fouling Beal behind the 3-point line. Beal missed the first, hit the last two, and cut the lead to just one.
John Wall, who had watched Lillard torch the Wizards in the overtime period, decided he had enough and blocked Lillard’s attempt to extend the Blazers’ lead:
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) March 12, 2017
Wall got the rebound and dribbled up the floor, but he looked confused about how to proceed. He didn’t know whether to call his own number, call a play, or call timeout—until Brooks ran up the sideline and demanded time, something the referees did not see right away. Brooks has been magical all season calling plays out of timeouts, but on this night—particularly at the end of regulation—he was not having much success conjuring a positive outcome.
Out of this particular timeout, instead of running a Wall iso or even having Wall dictate the terms by which the game ended, he decided to give the ball to Beal. Beal made his move to the basket, realized he wasn’t going to score, and found Morris in the corner.
Out of nothing, Steve Buckhantz had a reason to Dagger:
The replay seemed to show Markieff’s heel touching the sideline but it was not reviewable, because the final buzzer did not sound and the referees did not make that call while the play was happening. The Blazers coaches and players did their share of bellyaching, but Morris’s basket was not taken away and the Wizards led by one with 0.4 second left. Lillard’s desperation shot at the buzzer did not go in and the Wizards, indeed, won.
John Wall finished with 39 points (1o coming from that elusive free throw line) in 40 minutes. Beal added 26 points and six assists (including the game-winning pass to Morris), and the rest of the starters were in double figures as well.
More importantly, on a night when the Wizards got just 14 of their 125 points from the bench, they won their second consecutive game by playing what Scott Brooks called, “Wizards Basketball.” Their defense has been porous, the killer instinct has not been consistent, and there are still stretches of basketball when the team suffers through mental lapses—even looking defeated and despondent. But unlike in the past—or even earlier this season—when that type of play would lead to multiple losses and visible frustration among coaches and players, this particular incarnation of the Wizards is resilient enough to shake off their demons and win.
This newfound ability to win even when they’re not 100 percent is a trait that championship teams have learned and mastered. And if the Wizards can do it four times in five nights, on the road, it could be time to recalibrate their postseason expectations. For now, as Bill Belichick would say, it’s on to Minnesota.
Wizards are now a team that steals games instead of having them stolen. To paraphrase Eddie Jordan, we are harvesting our nuts. https://t.co/ITxInDy66b
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) March 12, 2017
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