Welp, that didn't go exactly as planned. The Wizards were on fire early, dismantling the Nets on their home court. They led, 36-12, at one point and looked ready to run away with the game. Instead, the Nets fought back to a single-digit halftime deficit, made their move to tie the game in the third quarter, erased an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit and eventually sealed it at the end. Deron Williams completely outplayed John Wall on both ends of the floor, with Wall struggling mightily on both ends of the floor and down the stretch.
The Wizards are now left to wonder how they allowed all of that to happen against a team not expected to be very good. My notes on the game as it happened. It went from good to bad real quick.
- You can tell the Nets wanted to make Wall work early. They ran Williams into the post on the first posession, then ran him off a bunch of screens on their third possession. Both times, Wall stayed with him. He went in front of Williams to intercept a post entry pass the Nets' first possession, then forced the Nets to look for another option on the other, which resulted in a turnover and a secondary break dunk for JaVale McGee. Williams managed to shake Wall on the ball for a couple open looks, but off the ball, Wall was right there. At least he was in the beginning. Things would change quickly.
- McGee got off to a really sharp start. He was active on the boards and was very good with his weakside defense. On one play, Andray Blatche went to double team Williams, and Kris Humphries dove down the lane for what seemed like an easy shot. Instead, McGee came over and stuck his arms straight up, allowing Blatche to recover for the block.
Jordan Crawford let Anthony Morrow get free for a couple good looks early and was lucky Morrow missed them. On the bright side, he did a nice job running out for transition points, which is one way he'll need to score. If the big men can rebound, then Crawford can leak out and get more of these points in transition.
- Ronny Turiaf is such a smart offensive player. He showed off his superior court vision and understanding of the game with two nice passes to set up dunks for Blatche. More impressively, though, he knew exactly who to rotate the ball to on the weakside to keep the play moving.
- Avery Johnson talked before the game about sending five guys back to prevent John Wall from getting easy opportunities in transition. It certainly didn't work in the first quarter. Wall got free for a breathtaking drive where he cut left just before New Jersey's big men rushed back, then finished anyway with a tough right-handed layup.
- Nick Young came off the bench and was very, very good. He looked to pass off curls, which is more than we could say last season, and he moved with a purpose on his cuts. When he got the ball in isolation situations, he abused Marshon Brooks with a series of refined jab steps to get to his spots. He did force a couple shots late in his stint, which is probably why he was replaced just before the six-minute mark.
- Nice job by Flip Saunders and the coaching staff coming up with a game plan to confuse New Jersey's offense. It'd be easy to say the Nets just missed a lot of shots they should make, and they did. But the Wizards also induced that kind of panic with hard double teams in the post and very, very quick rotations. That appears to have been the Wizards' gameplan, and it worked really well early in the second quarter.
- Some sloppy play allowed the Nets to get back into the game. Wall turned it over in the backcourt, allowing Sundiata Gaines to steal it and go in for a layup. On the free throw, nobody boxed out Humphries, and the Nets got another score. Then, Crawford made a poor decision, calling the same pick and roll to the baseline that the Nets cut off earlier. Petro stepped out and forced the offensive foul. Finally, Blatche got into it with Humphries on the kind of play from which he just needs to walk away.
- Interesting to see Jordan Crawford take a few possessions guarding Deron Williams, even with Wall in the game. The results were better than I expected.
- Washington's lack of cohesion in the half-court hurt them at the end of the half. Needing a play to help put some distance back between them and the Nets, they couldn't figure out a go-to set that could reliably get them a bucket. This is partly because of personnel, but it also speaks to the claims made earlier in the preseason that an offensive pecking order hadn't yet been established.
- After the Nets' transition defense was bad in the first half, the Wizards' transition defense was poor early in the second half. The Nets were able to get an easy layup off an offensive rebound when nobody covered for Rashard Lewis' man in transition after Lewis hit a tough layup on the other end. Communication needs to improve.
- Wall's perimeter defense really is becoming problematic. When the Nets involved Williams in a pick and roll, Wall trailed behind Williams in a weird zig-zag too often, putting the Wizards' bigs in a tough spot. Wall needs to recover far quicker, and running back to Williams in a straight line is a good start. Williams took advantage of Wall's poor technique and scored at will early in the third quarter to bring the Nets back. It was bad enough that Young was immediately put on Williams as soon as he checked in.
- Blatche looked a bit tired late in the third quarter and it looked like he may have asked himself out of the game. He fumbled an offensive rebound at one point, which led to another run-out. Trevor Booker entered for him, but probably should have come in sooner. Humphries really outplayed Blatche in the third quarter, sliding into open spaces and being a factor on thee glass.
- Turiaf once again came in and did his thing in the third quarter, taking two key charges. The problem is that playing him and Booker together hurts your floor spacing, but the defense added is enough to try the combination more.
- Chris Singleton and Roger Mason, along with Turiaf, provided a big spark early in the fourth quarter. Both moved their feet well on defense and ran to the three-point line on a key sequence when Mason ended up hitting a long two. Those three did a really nice job picking the defensive intensity early in the fourth quarter.
- In light of that, I thought the Wizards went back to the starting frontcourt too soon. I think Saunders needed to give Wall a break (he played the whole third quarter) and was concerned about having no offensive threats in the game. A Shelvin Mack-Mason-Singleton-Booker-Turiaf frontcourt isn't scoring any points, and you can't trot that lineup out. Instead, Saunders probably should have sat Wall in the third quarter when he was struggling to prevent this problem from happening.
- McGee did a pretty poor job closing out on Petro, then didn't even look for the pass on a pick and roll. He also let Petro sneak inside of him for a key offensive rebound to give the Nets the lead. These are the kinds of plays that drive Saunders crazy. Not surprisingly, Turiaf replaced him with four and a half minutes to play.
- The Wizards' offense really stagnated midway through the fourth quarter. Good thing Young was hitting some tough shots.
- Washington's inability to rebound was a huge reason they lost/game was this close. New Jersey outrebounded them 56-39. Part of this is poor work from the Wizards' big men, but part of it was also because the guards leaked out looking for layups. Also, the Wizards were forced to rotate for poor perimeter defense by the guards too often.
- No matter who was on Williams, the Wizards' inability to guard the pick and roll was decisive.
- At the end of the day, the biggest reason the Wizards lost, sadly, was Wall. He was just 3-12 from the field and got completely outplayed by Williams. He didn't look like himself driving to the basket, and he didn't create good opportunities for his teammates after the first quarter. He didn't hit his free throws either, and he was so bad on defense that Singleton, a rookie playing his first game, guarded Williams down the stretch. Wall's inefficient play from both ends of the floor carried over from the preseason, and that's a major, major problem. It's still early, but he needs to recapture the spark he provided in the first month of his career and over the summer.
- On the final decisive play on the game, Wall missed a wide-open Crawford on the left wing in transition. A simple pass would have created an open three for the tie. Instead, Wall drove on multiple defenders and tried a crosscourt jump pass that was easily intercepted