Jazz 107, Wizards 104: Grand Opening, Bad Closing | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Jazz 107, Wizards 104: Grand Opening, Bad Closing

Updated: January 11, 2018

[Photo via @WashWizards]

Two days ago, my fellow TAI colleague Bryan Frantz wrote an astute piece explaining that the Wizards’ hero ball antics–particularly from John Wall and Bradley Beal late in a game–needed to cease if the team has any designs on improving their record and their chances for a deep playoff run.

At one point, Frantz mentioned that high minutes from Beal and Wall, along with their combined 33 percent fourth-quarter shooting, was a recipe for failure.

The next day, Kyle Weidie, another TAI colleague (and founder), re-posted Frantz’s article, highlighting the damning statistics that show just how putrid Wall and Beal’s late-game shooting has been. John Wall himself was none too pleased and he offered a response to Weidie’s tweet: “It’ll change long season buddy.”

Two days later, after the 107-104 loss to the Utah Jazz, Wall was once again put in a position of explaining why his team relinquished a second-half lead (this time nine points) and had to play from behind most of the fourth quarter. His responses were a bit more expansive than his retort to Weidie:

“I just think we had too many turnovers and we just made simple lapses at the end of the game. When its the fourth quarter, last five minutes, you gotta be locked in . . . we gave up backdoors, wide-open 3s in transition and those are things that hurt.”

While hero ball and the lack of ball movement were two of the main factors in the Wizards’ loss to the Jazz, Wall is correct about the defensive lapses playing a part in their demise as well. The two main lapses occurred at the end of the third and fourth quarters.

With 7:32 left in the third quarter, the Wizards led the Jazz 66-57, after a Markieff Morris corner 3-pointer. Then Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell went right back down the court and drilled a wide-open 3 of his own. Beal and Wall turned the ball over on consecutive possessions and Ekpe Udoh (via a three-point play) and Joe Johnson (via his traditional step-back jumper) quickly cut the lead to just one point.

Utah’s confidence began to build, and the Wizards, partly because of Brooks’s decision to insert bench players and partly due to the lack of ball movement, began to slowly let the Jazz back into the game. The Jazz tied the game at 72 with four minutes left in the third quarter, and Brooks called a timeout to re-group. The team did not respond.

The Wizards proceeded to turn the ball over four times in the last four minutes and they were outscored 11-5 during that span. The Jazz scored 37 points in the third quarter en route to a six-point lead–and they weren’t led by Rudy Gobert (injured), Derrick Favors (injured) or Donovan Mitchell, who scored seven points but played cautiously thanks to foul trouble. The Jazz’s leading scorers in that pivotal third quarter were Ekpe Udoh,whose 10 third-quarter points tied his highest scoring output all season, and 36-year-old Joe Johnson, who scored eight points on 3-for-3 shooting.

The second and most costly defensive lapse came late in the fourth quarter, thanks to a careless gamble by Kelly Oubre.

John Wall hit a tough 3-point shot to give the Wizards a one-point lead, and he and the rest of the Wizards’ players on the floor (Oubre, Beal, Gortat and Porter) were visibly pumped as the Jazz came down on offense. Utah coach Quin Snyder shunned the timeout and let his team run the offense. Donovan Mitchell appeared to get past John Wall, but Marcin Gortat was in the lane to contest the shot. However, before Mitchell could take another step to find out if he could get to the basket, Oubre left his man (Joe Ingles) and decided to take a swipe at the ball as Mitchell drove by. Oubre missed, Mitchell made the correct pass to a wide-open Ingles, who hit the shot, leaving Scott Brooks incensed:

Oubre’s defensive lapse put the Wizards down two points and it took the Wizards from a position of strength to one of desperation, which meant the hero ball gene reared its unsuccessful head. Both Wall and Beal took and missed 3-point shots and, after Joe Johnson hit two free throws to extend Utah’s lead to four, Kelly Oubre took a rare fourth quarter pass from Wall and hit a tough driving layup. The Wizards, down two points, intentionally fouled Johnson and he made just one of two free throws to bring the Wizards within three points.

Unfortunately, Beal botched his last-second attempt to tie the game and the Wizards lost. After the game, Beal took responsibility for losing the ball and not finding anyone to pass it to, but in all fairness to him, the game was not lost there. The game was mostly lost due to the turnovers (the Wizards had 23 total) and the defensive lapses in the second half.

But let’s revisit the concept of hero ball, because that also had a hand in the Wizards’ demise.

From the 4:30 mark of the third quarter to the 3:34 mark of the fourth quarter, none of the Wizards’ baskets came via an assist. Wall and Beal would either try to split Jazz defenders to get into the lane, or they would hunt and peck until they found enough space to get off a shot. And when someone other than Wall or Beal got the ball, they played that same selfish brand of basketball. Save for Oubre, the bench players–who typically share the ball–did not get a chance to play extended minutes thanks to Brooks’s rotations. And even when the bench mob did play, the results weren’t ideal: Jodie Meeks missed all four of his 3-point attempts, Mike Scott didn’t get his open shots because of the selfishness of Wall and Beal, and the rest of the reserves were relegated to limited minutes (Jason Smith, 4 minutes; Satoransky, 5).

Wall and Beal shot a combined .500 (23-46) from the field and totaled 58 points and 18 assists. On paper, it appears as if they pulled their weight and the rest of the team fell short. But in reality, the ball was not popping the way former Wizard Mike Miller would want it to, and the Jazz exploited that flaw and eventually won the game.

At the conclusion of his post-game presser, Wall was asked what he and his teammates need to improve upon during the second half of the season. Wall may have thought he was looking ahead, but in reality, he described the very reasons why his team lost to the Jazz.

“When we move the ball offensively, and trust guys cutting, and trust guys passing the ball, and trust playing team defense, we’ve already shown what we’re capable of it. It’s the same thing that we’ve been saying the past four, five years. I know y’all are tired of hearing it, I’m tired of saying it, but it is what it is. Until we can prove we can do it on a nightly basis, we’ll be having the same conversation.”

It’ll change, it’s a long season buddy.

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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.