The Experiment Continues — How the Wizards Almost Didn't Win in Memphis | Wizards Blog Truth About

The Experiment Continues — How the Wizards Almost Didn’t Win in Memphis

Updated: January 6, 2018

Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The visiting Washington Wizards slipped out of Memphis with a Friday night win on one of their usual adventures. They scored 15 points on two made field goals in the fourth quarter.  And thanks to a last-second 3-pointer, the Grizzlies countered with 28 points. The Wizards won by two.

The roadie started well enough with John Wall and Bradley Beal fuel. The first play of the game featured Beal and Marcin Gortat action on the left while teammates lined up in formation on the right-side arc of the 3-point line. Memphis was content to let Wall plant himself at the top right of the arc and he was feeling enough to hit it. It was lining up to be that kind of night — Wall hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter. He and Beal combined for 18 points in the opening stanza, which helped mask the struggles of Marcin Gortat (3-12 FGs, Bunny Night) and Otto Porter (1-6 FGs, departed early with a hip).

With a 33-24 lead to start the second quarter, Scott Brooks continued his bench adventure. The Tomas Satoransky, Jodie Meeks, Kelly Oubre, Mike Scott, Ian Mahinmi lineup has its moments these-a-days and seeing them try can actually be enjoyable. It feels like part coaching experiment, part indignant toward lineup criticism, part patience, part why not. Let them try to make it work, let Satoransky try to gesture and voice the arrangement through offensive stagnancy.

Turnovers are also a big problem for that particular bench lineup, and it’s not necessarily the point guard, Sato, who continues to post one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the NBA. The all bench squad finished five points in the hole over their eight and a half minutes of game play, shot 40 percent, and turned the ball over five times. Not a killer.

At the 8:45 mark of the second quarter, Brooks inserted Markieff Morris as the “5” man with the bench squad. Morris’s play on the night could actually be described as inspirational, for him. He darted to 50-50 balls, he went tit-for-tat with Marc Gasol, and that sort of display even continued into the second half. He finished with 17 rebounds, trying a career high — only the fifth time in 479 career games where he’s snagged 15 or more boards. The rest of the starters trickled back into the game and fun was found again, or at least a further glimpse of what’s to come with Morris at 5 and what that allows for others on offense. The Wizards led by eight points at intermission; Wall and Beal combined for 31 and the bench added 16 to team totals.

Brooks’s team kept the pedal pressed to start the third, which is not always the case. The starters added four points to the lead in the opening seven minutes. Then Brooks started experimenting with Ian Mahinmi at the 5, a tad with Morris at the 4 and a little more time with combinations of Oubre, Porter or Mike Scott as the 3-4 combo. The smaller lineup combos, mostly with Beal as the anchoring starter, added four more points to the advantage. The Wizards led 87-72 after three quarters.

Then whatever has been happening, did happen. It’s difficult to contextualize or quantify unexplained basketball struggles. And the Wizards seem to have the most unexplainable.

Sure, you can blame the bench for starting the undoing, but I’m not so sure they are the root of it. The fourth began with Meeks sailing a pass to the corner, Oubre trying to save it, and it (being the ball) ending up in the hands of a Grizzly — layup. Next possession: Oubre dribbled, jumped, and passed the ball through what must have been a ghost and right out of bounds. Down the court, Memphis grabbed four offensive rebounds in a row. The game became a classic Memphis grind. And Washington bought into it. Wall and Beal were summoned to unpack their legs and take part in the grind with around eight minutes left and the Wizards holding an 11 point lead.

There was that possession where Wall dribbled a soft spot in the floor at the top of the key while he waited for Beal to maneuver off the ball. Beal eventually drew a foul, a grab, which he is becoming increasingly adept at. And maybe that was Washington’s addition to the grind. Not exactly resulting in sparks. Subsequently, Wall missed 16 or 17-foot pull-ups, Beal and Satoransky boinked 3-point opportunities.

The back-and-forth: Gasol dunks through lost defense off a pick-and-roll with Tyreke Evans, Wall clunks a 3. Evans then gets by Wall baseline and hits a layup with no help from Gortat, and the Wizards violate the shot clock. JaMychal Green hits a corner 3, it was Wall’s assignment — he didn’t really contest. Other end: exchanges of dribbling nowhere then pass-outs before Wall is forced to brick a long 2.

It even got as silly as Evans staring down Wall at the arc and then catching him with a hand down, man down. Evans’s 3-pointer with 18 seconds left brought the Grizzlies within one, 97-98. The Wizards then simply backed into the win by making their free throws, Beal rolling in the second to go 2-2 and Morris later hitting both of his opportunities.

Post game quotes seemed to focus on how the Wizards won with their defense. Scott Brooks, via Candace Buckner of the Washington Post:

“To win on the road shooting 39 percent means we played the defense that it takes to win on the road,” Brooks said. “It wasn’t a pretty game. It was a lot of struggle offensively in that fourth quarter but I thought we played with a lot of toughness and we got stops when we needed.

“We won the game because we defended tonight.”

The Grizzlies shot 40 percent, and so to be tied for the third-worst record in the NBA and only lose by two points at home while shooting that low of a percentage — they must’ve played pretty good defense, too. Particularly against a team, the Wizards, ranked 11th in offensive rating (a hair above the OKC Thunder at 12).

History may look back on this box score and see an even slog. The fact that the good guys won on the road will stand out even more, and only really matters. Still, the Wizards take their troubles with them into the next day, a home game versus the Bucks (who lost to the Raptors on Friday). But who (or what team) doesn’t have troubles? It’s all about making apparent how you’re going to solve them. And the Wizards still very much feel like they’re in the experimental phase.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.