It's not too early to start clearing cap space for Kevin Durant, is it?
Washington had rallied, traded leads with the Thunder, and actually held a 90-89 advantage roughly 3-1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter. But instead of building on that lead, the Wizards laid down and let the Thunder go on a 21-8 run to close out the game and win 110-98. That's what experienced teams are supposed to do -- execute with a sense of urgency down the stretch. Young, inexperienced teams are supposed to struggle to find a way to protect their lead.
All season long, following each of the previous nine defeats decided by five points or fewer, Saunders had stressed the need for his players to dedicate themselves to defending - especially late in games. But there the Wizards were again. They had traded leads with the Thunder nine times - three times in the first half of the fourth quarter alone - before going up 90-89 with 7:43 to play. Then came the customary collapse by the Wizards and charge by their opponent. Layups, wide-open 3-pointers, breakaway dunks. Another deflating defeat.
After 30 games, Saunders unloaded on his team like never before, with the most scathing criticism of his players all season. It was arguably the most scathing criticism I've ever heard a coach give his team -- in person. Saunders kept his cool and never raised his voice, so it does not rank up there with some infamous meltdowns by NFL coaches Jim Mora (Playoffs?! & Couldn't do diddly-poo), Mike Ditka (Next!) or Dennis Green (They are who we thought they were!). But this was the first time I ever heard a coach tell a room full of reporters that he could put five of them on the floor against his team and have success. It was the first time I heard coach say that, at age 54, he could take any player on his team one-on-one.
Saunders was most upset by his team's inability to play effective man-to-man defence in the second half, and counted 46 uncontested shots allowed. The Wizards used a zone to stay close in the middle two periods, but Thunder players blew by Washington defenders down the stretch. Oklahoma City hit 13-of-18 shots (72 per cent) from the field in the fourth quarter.
To say that Flip Saunders was fired up after the Wizards found a different yet familiar way to collapse tonight against Oklahoma City would put it way too lightly. The fact is, the entire organization is on notice, and Saunders has officially drawn a line in the sand. The argument could be that he knows he's got the full backing of the Wizards front office and the freedom to lay into his team as he pleases. It also is an angry plea to the front office to make a change. Talk about ending the year with a bang. Who knows what this team might look like by the time it's 2010.
When you cover a team like I do the Wizards, and you hear a coach rip his team the way Saunders did, you absolutely cannot wait to get to the locker room to hear what the players have to say in response. But much to my surprise, when I went to the locker room, none of the players seemed to disagree with the coach’s observations about their defensive effort. "When you give up a dunk in the fourth quarter to a high level player like Kevin Durant, everybody on the team is mad because he’s supposed to get fouled and he’s supposed to get fouled hard," Brendan Haywood admitted. "Nothing dirty, but he’s supposed to get fouled. That’s when we’ll get better as a team, when you take pride in getting stops."
The playoff picture in the East is like a waitress from Hooters. Both look nice, but neither is likely to provide a fruitful return stemming from hot pursuit. It’s just a tease, an illusion of something better. Maybe the Wizards need to make a trade. And maybe you need to go hit on more attainable waitresses at another restaurant.
You’re looking at detonation. You’re looking at trading away the central core. You’re looking at the end of the road for an entire era that was never really born. In a way, LeBron killed it. And I know that hurts. But when he spoke to Gilbert at the line, something changed. Nothing was right after that. It was just disaster after disaster, be it the quiet unfortunate kind (the playoff elimination sans Gilbert), the abject demolition (the injury 08-09 season), or this year, the death of hope.
The Wizards are now 10-20 and have mastered the fine art of losing close games in bizarre fashions and getting blown out at home by teams that will not be in the NBA Finals. Let’s hope General Manager Ernie Grunfeld is looking very seriously at ways to blow this team up and start over again. The Wizards are the most over-paid and over-hyped piece of junk since…the Redskins.
After spotting the Oklahoma City Thunder an 11-point lead Tuesday night, midway through the second quarter Saunders appeared to stumble upon a five-man set that worked. But after the group of Gilbert Arenas, Earl Boykins, Caron Butler, Andray Blatche and Brendan Haywood bolted back in front with a 17-4 run, they weren't spotted on the floor together once in the second half, particularly as the Thunder closed with a 21-8 run to clinch their 110-98 defeat of the Wizards in front of 17,152 at Verizon Center.
The Wizards kept it close until about 6 minutes left in the quarter, then the Thunder got serious about playing defense, put together a couple of stops, and made a couple of shots to extend the lead to 11. The good thing about this win is the Thunder proved again that they can put away the bad teams. The bad thing it took them until the fourth quarter to finally put them away. Keep playing with fire and eventually you will get burned. It didn't happen against the Nets and it didn't happen against the Wizards but eventually keep doing it and someone will step up and pull out a win.