Deconstructing Washington's crunch-time breakdowns against the Nuggets

Rob Carr

The Washington Wizards blew a one point lead with less than a minute left in their 75-74 loss to the Denver Nuggets. Despite multiple chances to secure a win, the Wizards lost their second game in a row. Here's what went wrong.

WASHINGTON -- Almost everything about the Washington Wizards' 75-74 loss to the Denver Nuggets was frustrating. There were at least a half dozen calls throughout the course of the game that could have meant the difference between winning and losing. Otto Porter struggled in his limited minutes. Nene and Martell Webster were out.

Perhaps worst of all, though, the team had several good chances to win the game in its last minute, none of which were successful.

The first instance in which it looked like we might hear DAGGER! was with 43 seconds left in the game. With Washington up 74-73, John Wall and Marcin Gortat ran a pick and roll, with Wall keeping the ball and going hard to the rim. Kenneth Faried rotated over and swatted the ball away, ran the length of the floor and was rewarded with a dump off pass for an uncontested dunk in transition. Denver now had the lead.

Washington got the ball back and eventually ran a pick and roll with Trevor Ariza as the ball handler and Gortat setting the pick. Gortat popped when he should have rolled and a bad pass by Ariza led to a turnover.

"It was just a bad pass. I don't blame anybody or I guess I was thinking a little differently. Next time we're in that situation I'm sure we'll figure it out." Ariza said.

Gortat offered his perspective, also taking the blame for the turnover.

I should have been under the basket -Marcin Gortat on Trevor Ariza's late-game turnover

"It was definitely a very good move from Trevor, I was just in the wrong spot. For some reason I just decided to drift to the wing instead of the basket and it was just my bad decision," Gortat said. "He made the right play, the right pass, the ball was deflected a little bit I guess but still it doesn't change the whole situation. I should have been under the basket and he made a very good move, a very good play, I should have been ready for that. Next time I'll do better."

Once Denver got the ball back, Wall intentionally fouled Andre Miller. Since Denver wasn't in the bonus, the Nuggets inbounded the ball at halfcourt. Miraculously, or so it seemed at the time, Glen Rice, Jr. intercepted a pass into the backcourt that had been intended for Randy FoyeRice instinctively passed the ball to a streaking Wall who missed a layup. Garrett Temple got the offensive rebound, tried for the putback but had his shot rejected out of bounds by Wilson Chandler, leading to another Washington time out.

Rice, who made his first NBA start that night, blamed the loss on missing makeable shots like Wall's layup and Temple's putback.

"We got the steal, and we knew we had another shot to win the game. Shots didn't fall," he said.

Coming out of the timeout, Wall got the ball back, drove almost all the way to the basket and whipped the ball across the court to an open Ariza standing just behind the three point line in the corner. Ariza, who's making almost 49 percent of his three pointers from this area, launched a high-arching jumper that bounced around the rim before being rebounded by Faried.

"I got a good look, I thought it was going to go in but it didn't," Ariza said.

Randy Wittman thought the team got unlucky there.

"I don't know that you can get a better shot than Trev's," Wittman said. "He was open in the right corner. You know, it just didn't go in."

Once Faried had secured the defensive rebound, Chris Singleton intentionally fouled him. Faried went to the line with the ability to put Denver up by as much as three, but missed both free throws, leading to an offensive rebound by Trevor Booker.

After another Washington timeout, Wall got the ball with 4.1 seconds left in the game and Washington still down by one. Guarded by Nate Robinson, Wall drove to the basket, lost the ball while rising up for a jumper and threw his arms up in order to emphasize that he'd been fouled. No whistle sounded and Denver held on to the ball as the clock expired.

"I lost the ball and we lost the game," Wall began, simply.

However, Robinson may have foul him, and Wall clearly believed this was the case on the court. When asked specifically about Robinson's defense, Wall changed his tune.

Nate Robinson was grabbing my arm every time I went by-John Wall

"The same thing (happened) that was happening all game but I didn't get the call," he said. "Nate Robinson was grabbing my arm every time I went by and that's how I lost the ball, but no call. It was a tough game that way."

The general consensus in the Nuggets locker room seemed to be that Wall had been fouled and they were lucky to get the call. Robinson declined to comment, saying, You're going to write what you want to write."

Wittman, who it should be pointed out can be fined for complaining about the officiating, chose his words carefully but appeared to be of the opinion that Wall was fouled.

"We had four second left on the clock and John got the ball at the top and they let him attack Nate," Wittman said. "I haven't looked at it, but I think Nate reached in from behind."

At the end of the day, the game is over and nothing can be done about poor officiating or missing makeable shots. Especially with Martell Webster, Nene and Bradley Beal out, Wittman's hands are tied when it comes to player rotations. If he affords Ariza, Wall and Gortat an extra five minutes of rest, the poor play from Eric Maynor, Jan Vesely and Porter could torpedo any lead that the starters built up. Similarly, if he continues to play the starters 35 minutes or more each night, they're not going to play with as much energy or aggression late in games and will be more prone to fatigue-related mental errors.

But if Wall and company could make one more play, we might not be talking about all that.

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