This seemed improbable. You won't find many Wizards games going into overtime despite nailing just one three the entire game and John Wall shooting just 6 -8 from the field. But the Wizards did just that thanks to a furious comeback in the second half, capped off with some clutch play late in the fourth quarter.
But just as the rally was thrilling, the finish was a thud. Washington amounted just one point -- a Wall free-throw -- in the overtime and fell to Charlotte again, 94-88. The sixth seed? Gone. Another winnable game lost.
It seemed like things were getting away from Washington late in regulation despite going up by as many as three points. After a careless turnover by Wall led to a Kemba Walker three and an Al Jefferson pick and pop jumper, it looked like the Wiz just didn't half enough left in the tank.
Things looked even worse after Marcin Gortat turned the ball over right out of the timeout, but after a few key stops, a Wall jumper out of the pick and roll knotted things up with just under a minute to go. After another Charlotte miss on the subsequent possession and Washington looked to have the last shot to win it. As they have done time and time again this season, Wall and Gortat executed a beautiful pick and roll. Wall waited a split second longer as Al Jefferson uncharacteristically jumped out on him, freeing Gortat for the delayed roll to the basket. Two-point lead.
That possession took just six seconds to play out. Problem is, there were 10 seconds remaining, which was more than enough time for Charlotte to send it to overtime. Out of the timeout, Kemba and Jefferson would run their pick and roll from about 30-feet out, which somehow gave Gortat the idea to trap and force Walker into a desperation heave. No one rotated on the back-end to impede Jefferson's roll to the basket, and the rest is history.
Let's not even talk about overtime. That was too scary.
Really, this game was lost early, when the Wizards came out with no energy or intensity and fell behind by 20. Washington didn't convert on a three-point attempt until the 30 second mark of the third quarter. That's huge for obvious reasons, but in a playoff atmosphere like tonight, it speaks volumes towards how this game went. Charlotte refused to abandon their pack-the-paint strategy on defense and the Wizards could not make them pay from outside.
This was a case of Washington not dictating the pace early on. With the three-ball not dropping and the Wizards running through their sets lethargically, they suddenly found themselves down by double-digits early while the Cats continued to shoot the ball at an alarming rate from the perimeter.
We've seen how this team has fared against a defense that baits them into midrange shots. Without those hot shooting nights from Wall that seems to happen one in every three or four games, it's easy for teams to stick with their strategy. But it's not like there weren't opportunities to make runs. The skip passes into the corner were there for Wall, and he found Ariza wide open to no avail. Again, you're not dictating the defense's coverages when you can't hit consistently from the perimeter.
And while Wall put up a triple double, this was not a strong game overall for him. Charlotte is an elite defense by almost every measure, they don't beat themselves with careless turnovers and they stick to the basics on offense. Wall is going to need to adapt quickly as he heads into the playoffs for the first time in his career. He was essentially rendered useless for the first 20 or so minutes of this game before finally waking up late to lead a surge to end the half.
The end to the first half set the tone for the rest of the game. Wizards started the third quarter on an 18-6 run, largely because they were able to find early offense. That's the key heading into the playoffs, and it's something Randy Wittman will hopefully continue to preach to mask their struggles in the halfcourt. It's become clear that they can't bank on running the same structured sets and expect hot-shooting to bail them out.