John Who? Wizards Win Third Straight Without Wall | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

John Who? Wizards Win Third Straight Without Wall

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Updated: February 2, 2018

A cynic would look at Washington’s wins in their first two games without John Wall with a certain degree of skepticism. Last Saturday, they defeated the Atlanta Hawks — the worst team in the league — in Atlanta by 25 points. They weren’t able to defeat the Hawks in December when Wall was supposedly healthy, but those pesky skeptics could argue that doing it now without him is still a minuscule task.

The Wizards followed up that victory last weekend in Georgia with a 102-96 victory on Tuesday at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had previously won eight straight games. That night Washington had five players scoring in double figures and 27 assists en route to a team victory. But Russell Westbrook also shot 5-for-18 with just 13 points, so it could be argued that his off night, not the Wizards’s ability to play team basketball, was the reason for the second consecutive Wall-less win.

On Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors, currently second in the East and boasting the powerhouse, All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, came to town. The previous two times they played the Raptors, Wall was out due to injury and the Wizards went 1-1. The first time they rode the hot shooting of Bradley Beal (16-26 and 38 points), and the second time Beal remained hot (27 points) but DeRozan was hotter (33 points) and Toronto won.

This third game figured to be the true test of Washington’s ability to win without Wall. Would Beal bail the Wizards out again on his own? Or would the spread-the-wealth version of offense the Wizards had displayed in their two-game winning streak prevail? Or would the Raptors prove to be too much?

Prior to the game, Toronto coach Dwane Casey seemed to have a sense that Washington’s recent ability to share the ball and distribute the scoring was a force to be reckoned with:

“They played probably one of their best games against OKC. As hard as I’ve seen them play in a long time … A lot of times guys lose one of their star players and the rest of the guys pick it up. And they have picked it up. They picked up the tempo, the hard play, offensive execution, ball movement.”

Casey is excellent at foreshadowing, but on this night he didn’t do so well at preventing what he foresaw, and his team lost, 122-119. Washington had a plus-12 advantage in rebounding (+4 on the offensive glass) and a plus-10 advantage in assists.

In the first quarter, thanks to matador defense on Serge Ibaka by Markieff Morris and hot shooting by OG Anunoby, the Raptors jumped out to a 34-27 lead, even though DeRozan and Lowry combined for just six points while Beal went scoreless.

But Washington’s starters combined for 17 points, and the bench, lead by Mike Scott (5 points) and Kelly Oubre (3 points), kept the game close, as Casey predicted might happen before the game.

At the start of the second quarter, Scott showed off his full repertoire of skills by scoring, assisting, rebounding, setting picks and playing exemplary post defense. His bench colleagues followed suit and broke even with Toronto’s bench. When the starters for both teams returned, Tomas Satoransky, who continues to play with a brand of poise and maturity that belies his two years of NBA experience, led the way with six points, while Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas led the way with 11 points.

Toronto led by seven points at halftime but DeRozan and Lowry still only had eight points. The Wizards had gotten significant contributions from eight out of the ten players who had checked into the game (Jodie Meeks went scoreless in five minutes of play), but Beal had just two points from the free throw line and he was 0-for-6 from the field.

Then Beal found his mojo.

Beal scored 11 of his team’s first 13 points in the third quarter, and he single-handedly caused Casey to call timeout to get his team to re-group. By the end of the period, Beal had scored or assisted on 19 of Washington’s 33 points, and he had a heavy hand in turning their seven-point halftime deficit into a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

After the game, Beal discussed what changed after halftime:

“I think in the first half I was trying to get a feel of how they were going to play me and they were doubling me a lot. A lot of the shots I took I didn’t necessarily like. I felt like they were shots they wanted me to take. In the second half, I knew that I had to be aggressive as much as possible, to give my teammates confidence and to give us a chance to go on a run and pull out a win. So, I just wanted to stay aggressive, stay confident. Once I saw one go down it was over from there.”

The Wizards outscored the Raptors 34-32 in the fourth quarter, and they once again distributed the scoring among eight different players.

Meeks scored all 10 of his points in the first four minutes of the fourth, and as Coach Brooks alluded to after the game, he gave the Wizards “a cushion” of seven points just a minute into the quarter.

The remainder of the final period was an exercise in back and forth basketball. Lowry or DeRozan would score for the Raptors, and the Wizards countered with balanced scoring from their starting five. Washington took after the final buzzer because in the fourth quarter they shot 55 percent from the field, 42 percent from the 3-point line and 91 percent from the charity stripe. During that same quarter Toronto shot a blistering 63 percent from the field, but a paltry 25 percent from the 3-point line and just 60 percent on free throws.

In the end, Coach Casey and his Raptors squad were defeated by the very thing he had so gracefully praised prior to the game: Balance.

Five Wizards starters and three bench players were in double figures. They had 30 assists for the second time in four games. Seemingly every player was eating equally, something Beal stressed to the media after the game:

Three wins in three games over the past five days without John Wall does not an Eastern Conference Finals team make by any stretch of the imagination. Glaring issues still showed up against the Raptors, particularly on defense. The Wizards surrendered 119 points on 53 percent shooting, the offense was far from fluid the last three minutes of the game, and Kelly Oubre is still a bit too inconsistent when it counts.

But given how badly the Wizards were struggling with a hobbled Wall in December and January, this recent stretch of games demonstrates their versatility and depth — two traits that they could not have possibly imagined after their loss to the Boston Celtics in seven games last May.

In the words of Bob from the movie, “What About Bob?”— Baby steps.

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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.