Last night may have been a peek into the future of the Washington Wizards. For any NBA franchise, the success of the team is often predicated on the component systems working in harmony. Less formally put, you need the role players on the team to perform their duties to the letter so that your big gun can be your big gun. Flip Saunders has stated on more than one occassion that the the team with the best player on the floor is the one that wins the game. In a game against the Eastern Conference's best team, the Wizards' role players ensured that John Wall was the best player on the court and allowed him to do what he does best, which is take over over basketball games.
The contributions of the Wizards bench may read as a laundry list, but it would be remiss if the play of Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Mustafa Shakur were not mentioned. While both Seraphin and Booker did not stuff the stat sheet, they displayed a defensive savvy that frustrated the Celtics on offense. Seraphin has grown to become the Wizards' best defender of the pick and roll in the frontcourt, which is either a display of amazing growth considering that Saunders "did not expect him to play at all this year," or an indictment of the defensive abilities of our other starters. Trevor Booker came in and did Trevor Booker things, getting physical with the Celtics and active on the both the offensive and defensive glass. All that is holding Booker from more PT at this point is his jumpshot, which remains fairly atrocious.
Then there is Mustafa Shakur, who arrived at the Verizon Center only three hours before tipoff. I don't want to get too carried away with Shakur, as it is no doubt easier to make an impact on the game when your opponents have not had the ability to scout you. But Shakur's performance as a substitute for a foul-plagued John Wall hopefully will at least garner some discussion of another 10-day contract with the organization. What is even more gratifying as a Wizards fan is the organization's ability to go in a different direction when signing a fill-in PG. Instead of approaching the signing as a chance to add a bit more "instant offense" in the mold of a Lester Hudson or Earl Boykins, the organization instead signed a player who appears to be pass-first in orientation. Even with the Wizards operating simpler sets with Shakur in the game, the ball kept moving during possessions rather than grinding to a halt.
Even the Wizards who have been singled out recently for criticism played within their game and magnified their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Al Thornton did the good Al Thornton stuff rather than the bad by taking it to the rim, limiting his usage and playing aggressive man defense. Andray Blatche, despite being dominated in the first half, woke up in the second and made aggressive moves to the basket rather than settling for contested jumpers. Finally, JaVale McGee had a typical JaVale McGee day, which was both alternately frustrating and elating for the fans in attendance. The good news is that McGee stayed out of foul trouble, bothered the Celtics bigs, and broke out a nice jumper. (It should be noted that according to Kyle Weidie from Truthaboutit, Coach Randy Wittman kept screaming at McGee that he was not a jumpshooter.) He also attempted steal a few rebounds, which ended up becoming Celtics possessions. It is so hard to laud the good things McGee and Blatche do on the court when they take so much off the table with their silly mistakes. But the growth is there, and hopefully the coaching staff can help both players build on the performance.
Now a special note should be made of the third quarter, where the Wizards kept resolutely chipping away at the Celtics' lead and and refused to roll over and play dead. Much praise can be given to the Wizards for getting back up after the Phoenix debacle and making a concerted effort to play the quarter with more energy and a commitment to execution. However, I would also like to single out the Celtics here for praise for helping wake up the Wizards in the second half.
I'm not sure whether those watching on television caught this play in the third quarter, but Kevin Garnett made the critical mistake of ticking John Wall off and waking him up. Following a Wizards bucket to cut the Celtics' lead to six, Garnett, who was so inside Andray Blatche's head that he could have told you Blatche's life story, raced up the line to get to post position. While passing John Wall, Garnett raised his elbow up and "incidentally" caught Wall flush on the side of the head. Garnett immediately raised his arms up in an "oops my bad" position and continued his jog to his spot. Two things happened at that point. The first is that John Wall gave Garnett a long stare that would have frozen the sun. The second is that Wall immediately became more aggressive on the offensive end, taking it into the paint against the Celtics repeatedly, and culminated his performance with the banked three in the face of Rondo.
In the gamethread, I stated that since last night was the halfway point for the Wizards, it would be a good time to assess the status of the team. In reality, I'm more confused after last night's performance as to the true ability of the Jekyll and Hyde Wizards. The team always gets up for the good teams and fall apart to those with comparable or mediocre talent. Thus, I am left to question whether we are seeing true growth from a team with a bright future, or a collection of players who run on adrenaline given the right opponent.
- Rashard Lewis had a great game and absolutely dominated his matchup with Paul Pierce. Lewis was so effective last night that it leads me to wonder why Orlando never let him play SF in their tilts with the Celtics. I still don't like the fact that Flip appears to want to run the poor guy into the ground considering his playing time and his bad knee, but he should be singled out for praise.
Nick Young went 1-13 but worked extremely hard covering Ray Allen on the defensive end. Near the end of the third quarter, the exhaustion from getting slammed around off of screens was easy to read on Young's face, and Saunders smartly substituted Young out for Cartier Martin.
- Yi Jianlian is doing a terrible job on pick and roll defense and appears lost when having to play at PF. He set several inadvertent picks on JaVale McGee and had a fairly poor game overall.
- A special huge shoutout to BF community members and Wizards fans at the Verizon Center last night. A lot has been made by both the media and the team about how it felt like a road game. However, I think everyone there for the Wizards did a great job in drowning out the "Let's go Celtics" chants, booing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and giving John Wall a standing ovation following the gutsy three. Y'all should be proud of yourselves.
Quotes and postgame video of Mustafa Shakur up later.