Wednesday Wizards Win In Unconventional Fashion | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wednesday Wizards Win In Unconventional Fashion

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Updated: March 23, 2017

Before the Washington Wizards’ 104-100 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, Coach Scott Brooks told the media about the defensive expectations for his players:

“If you make shots, you feel good. But we want to establish a way of playing, and it is a defensive way of playing so we can score off of our defense. We’ve done a decent job up until after the All-Star Break. But we definitely have to get back to playing with that tough-minded defensive approach.

“That West Coast trip, we were scoring, I mean we were making shots — like I said [before], that was an ABA road trip and we weren’t playing much defense. But we were scoring at a high clip, we were making shots, we were making 3s. We did play better defense in the fourth quarter and overtime in a couple of overtime wins, but we have to have an approach that we stay consistent [defensively], however we play.”

In the opening stanza of Wednesday night’s game, it appeared as if the Wizards took their coach’s words to heart, and decided to solely focus on the defensive side of the ball, while hanging their offense out to dry.

Bradley Beal played the entire first quarter and scored seven points, but he hit just three of his nine shots. The rest of the starters combined to shoot 3-for-11 for a grand total of six points. John Wall was scoreless (0-3), too. At one point, the Wizards missed 10 consecutive shots and went 5:44 without scoring a point. Before the extended drought, the game was tied at eight points, and by the time Beal hit an 18-foot jumper, they trailed the Hawks by 12 points, 20-8, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

As Coach Brooks alluded to in his postgame presser, during the recent stretch of games, the Wizards have been struggling defensively and routinely giving up 3o-plus-point first quarters. In fact, in the month of March (excluding the matchup versus Atlanta), the Wizards surrendered an average of 31.8 points in the first quarter. And even though they trailed by 10 and only scored eight points with 10 minutes gone by in the first, they limited the Hawks to just 20 points. Beal had two steals, Jason Smith came in and had two blocks, and Ian Mahinmi did what Marcin Gortat struggled to do: slow Dwight Howard from scoring. The lineup of Brandon Jennings, Beal, Smith, Mahinmi, and Kelly Oubre held the Hawks scoreless over the last 3:01 of the quarter, which allowed the Wizards to go on a 8-o run of their own to cut the lead to four points. They also limited Atlanta to just 34 percent shooting from the field.

With Jennings pushing the pace and Bojan Bogdanovic and Smith hitting open shots, the Wizards were able to maintain their late first-quarter rhythm over the first 5:30 of the second quarter. The Hawks scored 10 points during that span, but Washington’s offense came alive and scored 12 points during that same timespan, closing their deficit to just two points. Unfortunately, as has been the trend the last few games, while the bench held up their end of the bargain, the starters were to blame for lost momentum and a growing deficit as they trickled back into the game. Dennis Schroeder easily got by Wall and into the lane, and Tim Hardaway Jr. scored seven points in less than a minute. Just like that, the Hawks lead was up to nine and both Washington’s offense and defense were stagnant, clearly the very antithesis of what Brooks implored his team to do before the game. Beal was still carrying the team and Wall was still scoreless.

John Wall awoke from his 24-minute slumber in the third quarter, and the fortunes of the Wizards began to change immediately. As Brooks mentioned after the game, Wall’s teammates encouraged him to stay aggressive and keep shooting, and in the third quarter that persistence actually began to pay off. He hit 3s, he began to put pressure on the Hawks defense by getting in the lane for layups and assists, and his team’s spacing on offense was much approved, which allowed Otto Porter and Beal to get some uncontested shots.

The starters held the Hawks offense to just 21 points in the first 10 minutes of the quarter, and then the bench — Oubre, Mahinmi, Jennings, and Smith — held the Hawks bench scoreless in the last two minutes of the third, and the game was tied. Wall and Porter combined to shoot 6-of-10 for 20 points, which raised the Wizards’ shooting percentage to .400 while holding the Hawks to just 31 percent. But the Wizards still had yet to put together a sustained stretch of stellar offensive and defensive basketball, which is why they were tied to a shorthanded Hawks team (no Paul Millsap or Kent Bazemore) through three quarters.

Even when the fourth quarter began, the Hawks and Wizards looked like two heavyweight fighters throwing effective haymakers, but neither was able to achieve separation from the other. Oubre hit a 3 to start the quarter to put the Wizards up three, then the Hawks fought back to first tie the game then eventually take a four-point lead, courtesy of veterans Mike Dunleavy and Kris Humphries. Brandon Jennings, whose jump shot and overall offensive game has been on a milk carton since he joined Washington, answered by finding Oubre for a wide-open dunk on a fastbreak, and then hit a 3-pointer after a Rondo-like fake pass. The Wizards where, shockingly, up one point.

Then Wall re-entered the game with 7:28 left in the game, and the Wizards found that other gear, or “swag,” as Bradley Beal put it after the game.

When Wall entered the game, the Hawks and Wizards were tied at 77. Four minutes later, Washington went on a 19-7 run and led by 12 points. Beal and Wall created turnovers via steals and blocks, which led to seven Wizards points. Markieff Morris got in on the fun/swag with a three-point play of his own to put the Wizards up 10. There were chest bumps and high fives as the Wizards got back to playing their fast-paced brand of hoops, something they should have displayed from the opening whistle, given that playoff seeds are still very much at stake.

And even with the four minutes of dominant basketball which gave them a 12-point lead with three minutes left in the game, the Wizards still allowed their bad habits to cost them the lead. Wall took his foot off the gas on defense and allowed Schroeder to get in the lane to score — or find Ersan Ilyasova, Hardaway Jr., or Thabo Sefolosha. The Wizards began taking deep 3-point shots rather than relying on the ball movement and penetration which had allowed them to take control of the game. And with 19.9 seconds left and the Wizards leading by five with a chance to put the dagger in the Hawks, Wall went 1-on-5 and missed a terrible shot, which needlessly kept the game closer than it needed to be in the waning seconds.

Despite the late mistakes, the Wizards still won the game by following a formula which is the direct opposite of how they’ve been playing lately (especially during the 4-1 road trip). They locked down defensively, relied on Beal and the bench until the offense came around, and put together just enough quality stuff to win the game. It was far from pretty, and that formula will probably cost them wins against better teams, but the Wizards fought and won, which, per Al Davis, is all that matters.

Individual Assignments.

During his pre- and post-game pressers, Scott Brooks shed some light on what he expects out his best starter (Wall) and the player who has the potential to be his best defender (Oubre). As the season winds down and the playoffs arrive, it is worth examining whether both players — who have been inconsistent as of late — regain the defensive form their coach thinks is so crucial for them to have.

Brooks on Kelly Oubre.

“He has to use his defensive abilities. Right now his offense is not where it’s going to be — his offense is developing. He’s not where he’s going to be in a few years, but his defense can be really good if he’s committed to doing that each night.

“I thought the last game [against Boston] he was high, high level, and he was guarding a very good point guard (Isaiah Thomas), one of the best in the league. I like what he did then and maybe he’ll get more minutes… I don’t look at Kelly’s offense. He makes a shot, great, it’s a bonus.”

Brooks on John Wall.

“John did not have his shot falling for him, but he still played the defensive game and he passed the ball — 10 assists. I told him earlier this morning, I said, ‘You can dominate a game with your defense and passing. We don’t always need points from you — it would be nice, but it doesn’t always matter.’

“He didn’t make shots, but they were good looks. Sometimes when you miss shots — he missed two free throws — it’s just nice to see that ball go through the net. No matter how good of a player you are, it always feels better when the ball goes through the net. But I like the fact that he was still defending [and] he was still making plays for his 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.