That's how you close a game out on the road. Washington completely took charge of this one late, as they revved up the intensity to another level on both ends of the floor. John Wall and Trevor Booker provided two highlight blocks in crunch time, Otto Porter and Nene came off the bench and led a comeback and the Wizards overcame another poor shooting night to pick up a crucial 96-86 win over the Orlando Magic.
The offense found other ways to score, something that just wasn't done against the Bobcats and Bulls. You can definitely chalk it up to facing a lottery-bound team that's missing their anchor down low in Nikola Vucevic, but it's impressive nonetheless. Porter came alive off the bench to score nine points (!!!!), none bigger than his incredible tip-in off a Gortat miss late in the fourth quarter.
But this is about John Wall -- despite a 3-10 shooting performance -- showcasing why he's one of the premier floor generals in this league. It wasn't pretty, the shot isn't falling, but he made some incredible passes, including a beautiful alley-oop to Trevor Ariza en route to his 12 assist/one turnover night.
Sometimes it's as simple as not making your shots. The Wizards are currently mired in a shooting slump, hitting just 9-50 from three-point land in their three games prior to tonight. This is, in essence, the randomness of basketball. You can go weeks without looking like a competent offense just based off your shooting percentage alone, but it shouldn't be a cause for concern. Washington has proven all season long that they're at their best when Wall is slicing into the lane, sucking in defenders and kicking it out to their trio of three-point marksmen.
The ball just isn't going through the hoop lately. That was the case tonight and they couldn't do anything about it. Ariza and Beal routinely found themselves open beyond the arc, but couldn't connect. Wall was blowing by Jameer Nelson, throwing darts right into his teammate's shooting pockets, but had nothing to show for it. Orlando quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead thanks to some unsustainable shooting, but Washington didn't look rattled after laying a dud in the first half on Wednesday against Charlotte.
They started off slow once again, but it's hardly due to effort. Yes, Wall could have looked more engaged as a scorer, but he's doing exactly what's asked of him on that end. Had those three-balls fell in the first half, we wouldn't be talking about him passing up layups or taking advantage of Nelson's defense.
Instead, we watched as the team dug themselves out of another hole. It wasn't until the AARP unit, bolstered by the return of Nene and the amazing work by Porter, that they would finally make things interesting. Porter in particular looked well-versed as an off-ball cutter in the half-court, making himself available along the baseline as Nene surveyed the floor from the high post.
It wasn't always pretty, but these are the games the Wizards will need to grind out before heading into the playoffs. The hot shooting nights will come and go, but they have to pick up the intensity on defense like they did late in the fourth quarter tonight.
Here's some game notes:
- Really encouraging to see Nene play with aggression tonight. I thought he looked a little out of sorts in his return against Charlotte, but tonight he shot the ball well, drew some tough charges at key moments, and fought over a lot Orlando's cross-screens in the paint.
- Another good Booker performance on offense, but he had a number of breakdowns defensively. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but it really makes you wonder why Randy Wittman plays him so much. He constantly harps on relying on the defense to win ball games when the offense isn't working, but Booker is one of his biggest offenders. He was late rotating over, allowing Victor Oladipo and Nelson to march right into the lane, and provides zero rim protection. You have to believe Nene starts in the playoffs.
- How about Wall's assist to turnover ratio?