The NBA has this reputation as a league where games don't matter until the fourth quarter, but the reality is that the first quarter is arguably more important. Doug Collins likes to say this all the time, and for a while, I thought he was crazy. However, it makes complete sense. The first quarter is where trends begin. The great scorers can turn it on at any time, but for everyone else, you can tell whether they're in or out of rhythm. The first quarter is also the time when the two teams fall into their typical roles that will dominate the rest of the game. Usually, it's one team attacking and drawing fouls, while the other is attempting to keep up with proficient outside shooting. This all starts in the first quarter, making it arguably far more important than the fourth quarter, where traditionalists say games are decided.
With a rhythm team like the Wizards, however, the first quarter becomes even more important. The Wizards are an incredibly different team when they're hitting shots early. Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler in particular start to play incredibly aggressively when they hit early shots. Suddenly, the basket gets bigger, shots fall, and the two slash to the rim at will. The slashing opens looks for Antawn Jamison and DeShawn Stevenson, and it allows Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas to get offensive rebounds. It ends up all depending on the first few minutes of the game.
Tonight, it became clear in the first 5 minutes that the Wizards were suffering from the post-LA hangover. Facing a lineup featuring Yakhouba Diawara and local product Linas Kleiza, the Wizards came out completely flat. Denver beat them to tons of loose balls, and the Wizards settled for jumpers instead of taking it to the rim like they did against the Lakers. Arenas went into his evil-Gil, 25 foot off-balanced jumper mode, and nobody else was able to pick up the slack.
The key play of the game came in the game's second minute. Arenas took a pass and beat his man on the left wing. He dribbled left into the lane and tried to lay it up with the right hand. But as he laid it up, Marcus Camby slid over from the weakside and blocked the shot. From then on, Arenas didn't attack the rim at all. After shooting 27 free throws against the Lakers on Sunday, Arenas didn't shoot a single one tonight.
Why did I party so much last night?
The big comeback notwithstanding, last night was a pretty sorry performance from a team that I thought had turned a corner. Only Caron Butler really came to play, and even he made me scream a couple times tonight (stop jumping when Marcus Camby pump fakes!). Camby killed them all night with his defense, and Earl Boykins continued to dominate the Wizards with a huge game. Boykins and Andre Miller routinely beat Wizards defenders off the dribble for easy scores, and the very fact that Boykins got more rebounds than Brendan Haywood indicates a problem. Ultimately, however, the Wizards inability to get easy points at the free throw line was the big difference between yesterday and today.
I'm really tempted to continue to blast the Wizards for such a flat performance against a team playing without their two top scorers, but in the end, it's only one game, and they did play a really long one the previous night. Before the suspensions, I would have been happy getting one win out of this back-to-back. In the end, they got one win, even if it was the one I didn't expect. Such is life playing back-to-backs in the NBA.
A couple other quick thoughts.
- A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the old blog about why I love Antonio Daniels on this team. In the post, I basically said that AD is the perfect sixth man because he comes up with big drives to the basket that energize the team when they're stuck in jump-shooting mode. He rightfully was a fixture in the fourth quarter during the latter part of last season. Recently, however, Daniels has been losing crunch-time minutes to Stevenson and Jarvis Hayes. He played 26 minutes against the Lakers, but tonight, he only played 8 minutes. Hayes and Stevenson hit some big shots down the stretch, but wouldn't an attacking guard like Daniels be a much bigger asset late in the game? Players lose their legs on jumpers, but if you can get to the line, you can score in crunch time. This game is exactly the type of game perfect for Daniels' style, and he wasn't out there when it mattered most.
- Regarding the brawl suspensions, every player got what they deserved. 15 games is appropriate for Carmelo Anthony after he threw that punch and ran away. Nate Robinson got off lucky in my opinion with the 10 game suspension, and J.R. Smith probably deserved that much too because he made the first move on Nate. Mardy Collins, who made the initial foul, got as many games as Ben Wallace got in Auburn Hills, making the length appropriate. I agree with most that Isaiah Thomas was lucky to not be suspended, but you can't really suspend a guy based on hearsay. In the end, the main message from the event is that fights, unfortunately, can happen, and when they do, the perpetrators deserve severe punishments. The NBA is not full of thugs, and all that talk needs to stop. It's an isolated incident that has been treated accordingly.