Rockets vs. Wizards: Washington shuns hero ball to get the win

USA TODAY Sports

With the game tied at 103, the Wizards ran an actual play instead of just clearing it out for one of their best perimeter players. Why don't more teams do that?

WASHINGTON -- John Wall dribbles at the top of the key with under 20 seconds left and the game between the Wizards and Rockets tied at 103. Everyone in the building knows what was coming, because everyone in the league does the same thing in these situations. Wall is going to dribble it down to five seconds to prevent the Rockets from getting a chance to win in regulation, make one move and launch a wild shot that probably would miss, giving us overtime.

Fifteen seconds. Fourteen seconds. Thirteen seconds. Wall's still dribbling. And then, at 12 seconds, Wall does something funny. He passes it to Bradley Beal on the wing and runs to the weakside to clear out.

Beal's time to shine? Nope. Instead, Beal dumps the ball to Emeka Okafor in the post, guarded by the much smaller Carlos Delfino. As the Wizards' guards clear out, Okafor makes a strong move to the middle before the Rockets can double team and draws the foul.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. The Wizards, in a league where everyone clears out and lets their superstar do whatever he wants at the end of tie games, ran an actual play. Not a complicated play, of course, but it was a still a play. Blasphemy!

"They did it all game long, and I thought they'd stay small. So I said, 'Screw it, let's go big,'" Randy Wittman says after.

This is what the NBA has come to in 2013. A head coach, ostensibly one of the 30 best basketball minds in the world, needed to say "screw it" to himself to actually take control of a late-game situation. His players, several of whom hold beliefs that they are among the best of their crafts, went along with this strategy of getting the ball to the one guy nobody expected.

After it worked, I pose one question to players and coach: why doesn't everyone else do that?

Nobody has a really good answer.

"I'm a firm believer of going at mismatches. I'm a firm believer of the feel of the game, how a guy is going," Wittman says.

"We know we're not a team that's got guys that can close games out as good as the other stars," Wall says.

"The way we play and the way our team is designed, we don't do that," Beal adds.

"This team's pretty unique where we legitimately have guys at every position that can put the ball in the bucket," Okafor reiterates.

Sure, maybe the Wizards don't have LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but that hasn't stopped coaches before. Hell, it hasn't stopped this team before, at least earlier in the season. But all those failures may have taught these Wizards that the solo approach isn't always the way to go.

"I know that if I get the ball, they're all going to sink in like they kind of do every time I'm on the court. I'm basically the only one that really would penetrate, so if we get them moving around a little bit and they double the post, we swing it out and find easier shots," Wall says. "I think we catch them off guard because they usually think that I'm getting the ball or Brad's getting the ball. We can go to the low post and those guys can finish or make free throws."

Or, as Beal says more simply: "it's easy to guard a guy one-on-one. There's help everywhere. If we run a play, it creates more controversy for the other team."

It all makes sense, but this league can be slow to adjust. One former coach told me three years ago that the reason you don't see coaches run actual plays more often late is because there's more for a player to screw up. Also, it's worth noting that the Rockets tied the game on the previous possession by ... giving the ball to James Harden and getting out of his way.

The hope here, though, is that the Wizards continue to try to beat teams by executing actual plays. At the very least, it helps make up the talent gap.

At the very most ... maybe they can succeed enough to convince other teams to change their ways.

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