I guess we can put this one in the moral victory category. The Washington Wizards ran out of the gate against a really good Denver Nuggets team, but the Nuggets eventually rallied in the second quarter and eventually made just enough plays late to come away with a 108-104 victory at the Verizon Center. The Wizards played hard and did some very good things offensively, but the Nuggets' speed just proved to be too much. The Wizards compounded the problem with poor offensive possessions late in the game, while the Nuggets got a long three from Al Harrington and a rebound putback by Ty Lawson -- the smallest man on the floor -- to seal the win.
Some more notes on a fun game with an unsatisfying result.
- You see why Denver is a good team with the way they were defending early. They beat the Wizards to the spot, forcing Washington to settle. But the Wizards adjusted fairly well. On their first points of the game, Nick Young went off a flare screen and got open for three. That's a look I haven't seen much of this year. They also got a three from Chris Singleton after the Nuggets doubled in the post.
- As mentioned in the preview, the Nuggets run, but you can run back at them too. The Wizards did just that and got some highlight plays, but the most important thing is they were running and doing so efficiently. While Young's dunk was the highlight, I loved seeing John Wall look off everyone to set him up.
- I think you can live with some of the shots Danilo Gallinari hit early. If he wants to shoot flat-footed 20-footers off pick and rolls, he can.
- Great to see McGee jump straight up with 4:12 left, forcing Kosta Koufus to push off with his off arm to get it over him. Obvious offensive foul.
- I don't know if it was a renewed emphasis by the players, bad Nuggets defense or just hitting shots early, but the Wizards really moved the ball well in the first quarter. It was kind of jarring, really. Not only that, but they attacked the basket. For example, Shelvin Mack drove by Andre Miller right away instead of holding the ball, forcing a goal-tend. The ball moved to him and he made a quick decision, resulting in two points. Sure, Miller played bad defense, but that's what happens when the ball moves and quick decisions are made.
- The nice thing about Young's first quarter is that, outside of the shot referenced above, he didn't force anything. Well, except for his heat-check shot at the first-quarter buzzer. Will say this much: Denver did a pretty awful job recognizing that he had it going. Rudy Fernandez in particular was very bad.
- The Nuggets' small lineup proved to be a problem as expected. It forced Flip Saunders to play Trevor Booker, Rashard Lewis and Jan Vesely together in an attempt to match up, and it didn't work. Washington force-fed the ball to Booker, guarded by Miller, several times, coming up empty each time. It's kind of like what the Golden State Warriors did during their playoff run several years back. No matter what, they force their kind of game on you, and you can't match up.
- The perils of playing against the Nuggets: Blatche forces a fadeaway jumper over Al Harrington in the corner (the hardest part of the floor to get back from in transition), Chris Andersen rebounded, gave to Lawson, who pitched ahead to Fernandez, who found Harrington (who had leaked out) streaking in for the dunk. There were no dribbles after the ball crossed half-court. That's what Denver does so, so well. The Wizards simply have to be more disciplined in their shot selection against the Nuggets' small lineup.
- Nick Young sat out for a pretty long time in the second quarter, coming out very early and only returning with 4:27 left in the second quarter. Not sure why Saunders didn't put him in earlier at small forward to match up with Denver's small lineup. As soon as he came in, George Karl went back to Gallinari, forcing Saunders to put Crawford on him. I think Flip may have mismanaged that one.
- The good news, at least: the Wizards continued to score. But their defense was really poor, and the small lineup was the reason.
- To give Saunders credit, the lineup he rolled out there against Denver's super-small lineup with Gallinari at power forward did a pretty good job. Two incredibly athletic defensive plays by Wall and McGee allowed the Wizards to pull ahead by two at halftime.
- The Wizards tried two post-ups for Blatche to begin the first half, and neither work. He traveled on the first one, then got caught on the second one, kicked it out and Singleton missed a three in the corner. They tried to get him going and failed. Just a woeful game for him.
- Man, Young hit a couple tough shots early in the third quarter.
- Singleton struggled with Gallinari in the third quarter, mostly because Gallinari started to actually drive to the basket. He's really crafty when he does it, so I don't blame Singleton much. On one play, he started to the middle on a side pick and roll, lulled Singleton and Blatche to sleep with a hesitation dribble, then drove right for a dunk. It was a great, great move.
- When we talk about the booing getting to Blatche, this is what we mean: he drove and had a four-footer (contested, but still), but elected to pass it to a surprised Wall instead. Of course, he also got booed when he drove and missed a layup. He couldn't do anything right.
- The Wizards did some good things offensively in the third quarter, but when it counted, they couldn't get stops. Harrington and Lawson in particular really killed them. It's hard to stop Denver. It requires a superhuman effort from your big men, and McGee, while not playing badly, wasn't superhuman.
- Good to see Wall going out of his way to reward McGee with alley-oops. He hadn't done much of that this year until tonight.
- Two bad decisions at the end of the third quarter. First, Rashard Lewis closed out poorly on Corey Brewer, allowing him to shot-fake and draw the foul. Brewer just checked in and ... well, he's Corey Brewer. If he hits a three, so be it. Then, Crawford refused to pass it back to McGee on the re-post with good position, instead taking a contested three that clanked.
- Great to see Mack frustrating Miller on a post-up attempt on Denver's first fourth-quarter possession. Led to a technical foul. In general, Mack defended Miller far better than I thought he would. He even made him slip coming full-speed.
- Not a good fourth quarter for Crawford. Forced shots, and outside of one nice pass to Young for a three that missed, he didn't really create for others.
- Couple sloppy plays from McGee caused him to be benched. I get it and I hope it doesn't take away from what was largely a good game.
- Too much hero ball late. Crawford hit a three to put the Wizards ahead, but it was a really bad shot that somehow went down. He then took a really bad off-balanced runner that missed badly, and then forced a three that missed after Blatche fought hard for an offensive rebound. Wall also dribbled and forced a shot during that stretch. The Wizards did defend well, though, which kept them ahead even in the midst of all these terrible offensive possessions, but it continued and Denver took the lead.
- Sure, Harrington's long three was lucky, but the Wizards have nobody to blame but themselves for all those empty offensive possessions.
- The Wizards played hard, and that's good, but really, the decision-making by the two guards did them in. It's OK, it happens to a young team against a really well-coached team like Denver, but it still did them in. Wall simply cannot shoot that three-pointer down five with 40 seconds left when a quick two and a stop gives you a chance to tie.
That's the difference between a veteran and a young team. The veteran team cuts down the middle to get the key hoop. The young team tries to do it themselves. Nevertheless, it was a good effort that the Wizards can build on going forward.