The Suns, On the Road in D.C., Were Too Hot To Handle | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Suns, On the Road in D.C., Were Too Hot To Handle

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Updated: November 2, 2017

[via instagram.com/suns]

If the Wizards vs. Suns basketball game were to be re-enacted as a stage play, “A Tale of Two Halves” would be a leading candidate for the title. At halftime, the Wizards had a 64-52 lead—whittled down from the 22-point lead the team had built in the second quarter. It’s not as if the Wizards played down to their competition; they amassed their 22-point advantage by playing some of their best two-way basketball, but the Suns just played extremely hard and made proper adjustments to secure the victory.

One of those adjustments was how they attacked the Wizards’ switching defense. John Wall described vividly the team’s strategy after the game:

“We were switching 1-4. When we had the 4-man on the point guard, they would bring the 5-man up to a pick-and-roll. So, in that situation, we have two bigs kinda switch and those guards—[Tyler] Ulis and [Mike James]—were getting into the paint, and we was collapsing, and they were able to knock down shots.” 

The Wizards had a game plan coming into tonight: switch all action 1-4 and force the Suns to make tough, contested shots over their length. That strategy worked in the opening frame, as Phoenix shot 5-for-22.  The Suns countered that action by bringing their big men to the point of attack, which led to a lot of easy backdoor cuts. The biggest beneficiary from those backdoor cuts was the star of the night, T.J. Warren. He had a career-high 40 points on only 22 shot attempts (only one of which was a 3-pointer). The North Carolina State product had himself a field day, carving up the Wizards back line defenders with his array of off-ball movement and Derozan-like footwork in midrange.

When asked about the Wizards switching, and if new head coach Jay Triano specifically wanted to attack that, Warren said, “They were doing a lot of top-locking and our bigs were making great passes. Tyson [Chandler], Quese (Marquese Chriss), and [Dragan] Bender were making the right pass and finding our slashers and cutters.”

The term “top-locking” is a technique in which a defender, in anticipation of a pin-down or stagger, plants himself between his man and the screen. This often blows up the design of the play, but leaves the backdoor open. Phoenix saw that the Wizards were top-locking, and combated that with the perfect kryptonite, feasting on secondary action as if Thanksgiving came early.

When asked if he was surprised that the Wizards were giving him so much space, Warren said: “I was really surprised. Usually guys know if you give me a little bit of space, it’s always a bucket.”

Washington ended up losing 116-122 on their home court. Between the start of the second quarter and the final whistle, the Suns scored 107 points on 36-of-61 (59%) shooting from the field. The Wizards, meanwhile, managed just 86 points.

Otto Porter being out certainly made all of the difference in the world in terms of how the Wizards were able to defend different pick-and-roll action throughout the game, even if Bradley Beal denied it. Kelly Oubre’s foul trouble compounded that problem. The Wizards have one of the best 5-man units in the NBA, and the strength of that starting unit is its ability to defend by switching and not give up too much space to the opposing team. Oubre and Porter both rank in the top 10 in deflections per game, and limited minutes and a DNP respectively put the team in unfamiliar territory.

Tomas Satoransky was thrust into action and appeared to be a just a second behind on a few of those crucial plays, which led to him fouling and sending Suns players to the free throw line. The Suns converted on 31 of their 38 attempts, but did miss two critical free throws in the fourth quarter—giving Wizards fans free Chik-fil-A sandwiches as a consolation prize.

It’s a shame that the Wizards, as a team, went out and ruined one of Bradley Beal’s better games as a pro. Big Panda finished the game with 40 points on 12-for-25 shooting and even knocked down six of his twelve 3-pointers. The one knock is that too many times in the second half, Beal would settle for those dreaded midrange jumpers he’s been taking more of this season. Nevertheless, it was good to see Brad break out of his shooting slump from deep.

This loss will certainly sting for Wizards faithful, but there is solace in knowing that the team was without two of their better defenders, built for the switching action they practice (Porter and Markieff Morris). If they thought T.J. Warren was tough to handle, the Wizards will certainly have their hands full when LeBron James comes to town. All the team can do now is study the film, recognize where they made mistakes against the Suns, and shore up those holes before Friday night.

Of course, it’d be wise to find a way to stop giving up double-digit leads, too.

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
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Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. He is going into his second season writing for Truth About It, and also writes for sports analytics website numberfire.com. You can find him in a district bike lane in the Northwest neighborhood of Bloomingdale.