Put the last two minutes of the game out of your mind for a moment. Instead, concentrate of the first 46 minutes in which the Washington Wizards played their best basketball of the season. Concentrate on the fact that a team that many predicted (including your humble author) would be blown out tonight following the exit of their former franchise player instead rose to the occasion and took the vaunted uber-team to the limit. The Wizards displayed things that we had only seen in flashes all season, a tenacity on defense, ball movement and they even ran and executed set plays. It was exciting to watch, if only for one night.
If we had to apportion blame for the last two minutes you could place it in several camps, though you could just as quickly excuse the culprit. Yes, Andray Blatche gave up a boneheaded three point foul to Chris Bosh in the waning moments. But Blatche also torched Bosh all night long and worked moderately hard on the boards. Yes, Kirk Hinrich should not be attempting game winning shots and turning the ball over. But Hinrich also played all but six seconds of the game, which is perhaps 20 minutes too many. Finally, you could call Flip Saunders final set play into question (the foul that ended with the missed Hinrich FTs), but the play was designed for Nick Young to take the shot.
But lets hear about that set play from Josh Howard:
To be honest, it was a momentum changer. Whether it as designed or not we should have been able to get the ball in. Like I said, things like that are going to happen.
One is left with the bittersweet feeling of a team that played about as well as their limited personnel and situation would allow them. It is also difficult when one considers that a win over the Heat could have been a huge momentum shift for the team. Monday's game against Charlotte will be be a change to not only assess Wizards newcomer Rashard Lewis, but see if the energy level carries over from the game against Miami.
What carried the Wizards toward the near upset was what many of us had been calling for all year, a stepped up presence on defense and holding the Heat to under 100 points. Nick Young and Josh Howard both played exceptionally well on the defensive end, frustrating both Dwayne Wade and LeBron James throughout the game. As a whole, the Wizards did a superb job of defending Miami by stepping up into Miami's driving lanes and absorbing charges, or forcing TOs by playing the passing lanes. Notable for the renewed defensive aggression was Hilton Armstong, who took two key charges on both Wade and LeBron.
Armstrong on the key to defending the Heat
Being aggressive. Trying to step up in 'em. Don't let them come off screens as they usually do. Get the bigs up there to try and slow D-Wade and LeBron down a little bit. When they come and decide to drive, just step in and try to challenge the the shot.
Josh Howard on defending the Heat
Staying aggressive. Listening to the scouting report earlier in the day and trying to play their tendencies. We knew they had come off a back to back as well so we tried to get up and down as much as possible.
One other issue that needs to be addressed on the night is the play of JaVale McGee. McGee once again encapsulated why Flip Saunders dogs him more than that any other player as he transitioned from a scintillating block of Dwayne Wade to doing something like this:
Between that and getting upfaked repeatedly by both Bosh and Ilgauskas (who doesn't jump) it was not surprising to see McGee glued firmly to the bench throughout the fourth quarter. Which is a shame, because if McGee learned to make the "substance" play rather than gamble on style, he would most likely be finishing games on the court rather than the end of the bench.
Where do the Wizards go from here? After a game in which they beat the Heat in all the key categories (FB Pts, Pts in the Paint, 2nd chance Pts) except the final score, one would hope that they could take this renewed effort into Monday's game against Charlotte. Charlotte is a team in turmoil, as Larry Brown is openly questioning the heart of his team, and veterans Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson are being openly shopped around the league. Charlotte is a terrible team offensively, so if the Wizards bring the same defensive effort and maintain some sense of offensive headiness, we all may be pleasantly surprised Tuesday morning.