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Wizards lose a heartbreaker to Raptors: Final wrap and explaining what went wrong in that first quarter

One of Flip Saunders' pet phrases is that the "basketball gods" will take away wins from you that you don't deserve.  The running joke in the press room tonight was that he was going to whip out the phrase after last night's loss, which featured a 20-5 start for the Raptors in the first six minutes of the game.

Sure enough, Saunders eventually talked about how the basketball gods have a way of "evening things out" when you don't get off to good starts, referencing Hedo Turkoglu's tough fadeaway jumper on the baseline that ultimately gave the Raptors the win.  Saunders ripped into the Wizards' first-quarter play, saying that was what caused the Wizards to lose the game.  He said the Wizards didn't establish anything in the first six minutes of the game and were playing catch-up the whole game even when they were ahead (if that makes any sense). 

But then, Saunders dropped a bombshell on the room.

"That was a typical regular-season game of non-playoff teams," he said.

With apologies to Toronto fans ... that hurts if you're a Wizards fan.  He followed it up by saying the Wizards shot too many threes (29, hitting 10), but that's really only a symptom of the problem.  There's nothing particularly wrong with shooting a lot of threes, but there is something wrong with playing undisciplined basketball, which should be what Saunders was getting at.  Here's how the Wizards ended their possessions in the first six minutes of the game.

  • Caron Butler missed 19-footer
  • Gilbert Arenas missed 16-footer
  • Brendan Haywood's shot blocked by Chris Bosh
  • Antawn Jamison missed three
  • Gilbert Arenas missed jumper, missed layup, then Antawn Jamison missed jumper
  • Nick Young missed 17-foot jumper
  • Gilbert Arenas made three
  • Nick Young missed three
  • Antawn Jamison missed seven-foot runner
  • Brendan Haywood 1-2 from the line
  • Nick Young missed 15-foot jumper
  • Gilbert Arenas missed three, Brendan Haywood missed layup on the offensive rebound

Noticing a trend here?  It's missed jumper after missed jumper against a Raptor team with no shot blockers.  A Raptor team that doesn't want to/have the capability of moving their feet.  That's undisciplined ball.  The threes hurt, but the missed mid-range jumpers aren't good either.

Saunders said he implored his team in the huddle to take the ball to the basket rather that shoot jump shots.  From the players' perspective, though, the problem is that those shots are verrry tempting in Flip's offense.  The opening stretch was not an example of the Wizards ignoring the system.  In essence, the system is a series of interwoven plays that fold into each other.  In case one option doesn't work, in theory, the next "play" should not take too long to initiate.  As you can guess, though, executing all of this takes a disciplined-enough bunch that won't always jump at the very first chance to launch a semi-open shot.  That historically hasn't been this team's style and it wasn't this team's style tonight in the early going.

I'm not saying let's blame the system.  I'm just saying that the players didn't ignore it, at least in the literal sense.  They chose the wrong options.  Here's hoping they figure out what needs to be established early in the game so they don't have to really choose what plays work and what don't.

Four Factors (Bold=very good | Italics=very bad)

Team Pace Off Eff eFG% FT/FG OREB% TOr
Toronto 90.6 (reg)
50 19.8 29.8
100 (inc. OT) 107
28.4 35.2


Snap Reaction: The Wizards made up for their awful shooting by crashing the glass and committing very few turnovers.  If we want to look on the bright side, this is now two straight games where the Wizards barely turned the ball over, unlike earlier in the season, when turnovers were a problem.  Flip Saunders' teams tend to be low-turnover clubs, so I'd expect this trend to stick.

Lineup Details, via Popcorn Machine

  • Highest individual plus/minus: Andray Blatche (+19 in 23:06)
  • Lowest individual plus/minus: Gilbert Arenas (-19 in 38:54)
  • Best five-man unit: Earl Boykins/Randy Foye/Caron Butler/Andray Blatche/JaVale McGee (+4 in the first quarter)
  • Worst five-man unit: Gilbert Arenas/Nick Young/Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison/Brendan Haywood (-15 to start the game)

Snap Reaction: In general, the bench outperformed the starters in plus/minus, so don't blame Arenas for his low plus/minus.  Most of the other starters were close to him, and Arenas did score 34 points, after all.

As far as postgame quotes, Truth About It rounded up a few.  Here are some more notes and quotes that stood out:
  • Another bombshell from Flip Saunders: "We've lost a lot of games, but I'm more disappointed in this game than any game we've had."
  • Arenas agreed: "More mental breakdowns.  We couldn't get a stop when we needed to.  We cheated too much on this team and they made us pay."
  • As usual, Gilbert Arenas had a lot to say about his last shot.  He said he was thinking about going for the win, but figured that's what his primary defender, Jarrett Jack, "would have expected."  (For the record, Gilbert absolutely made the right decision to drive.  Going for the three would have been stupid).  But then, he got to the rim, and Amir Johnson pulled a fast one on him.  Calling his own decision "dumb," Arenas explained how he missed the layup.  "I thought the defender was going to try to jump, but he pulled the chair on me.  I was going to try to use the contact to try to push myself back to the rim, but he didn't jump, so I was off-balanced shooting the layup." 
  • More on Arenas: At the time of the play, Johnson had five fouls.  A sixth would have disqualified him.  Johnson's also been very foul-prone his entire career.  So on the one hand, Arenas could have expected him to try to block the shot.  However, Johnson probably knows all the same stuff Arenas did, and surely didn't want to get disqualified.  He also probably knows Arenas has a tendency to jump into people.  So in the game within the game, Johnson won this round. 
  • I asked Saunders about the defense, which seemed to allow Toronto to get open looks down the stretch.  He said he didn't think the Wizards defended poorly.  Nearly everyone else echoed this.  I mean, sure, Turkoglu hit a ridiculous shot to win the game, and Chris Bosh hit the contested jumpers he didn't hit in the first meeting.  But the bottom line was, Toronto was able to execute the play they wanted every time.  The Wizards almost never took away that first option. 
  • Brendan Haywood was the one guy who actually explained what went wrong early.  "Early on, I think we settled for some shots, settled for jumpers, and we didn't defend the rim early.  They kept attacking the rim, getting easy shots inside, whether it was from offensive rebounds, drives, and so.  If we're taking Js and they're attacking the rim, we're in trouble."
  • Nick Young's still a goofy dude, even in defeat.  He said he changed his shoes at halftime because the pair he wore in the first half wasn't working.  I also noticed how the coaches are always talking to him after the huddle out of timeouts.  I remember one particular time in the third quarter when Don Zierden was talking to him for a while, with his arm around him.  I asked Young what the coaches are telling him when they do that.  "Rebound.  We don't care if you miss shots, just play hard on defense."
  • As well as Young played in the third, it might have been the right night to let him play down the stretch instead of Earl Boykins.  Not that Boykins did anything wrong (well, except for that one play where he ran into Arenas - Kyle talked about that one), but Young had it going and Arenas was getting the ball anyway.  In fact, this was one game where both teams may have had a gripe about the rotations down the stretch.  Toronto played Jarrett Jack instead of DeMar DeRozan, even though Jack has been really bad this year.  Maybe that necessitated Boykins.  But it seems like you'd want a deep shooter like Young or Randy Foye if Arenas is handling the ball every possession anyway.

The bottom line?  You can't keep winning close games.  The Wizards had won four of five, but they included a one-point win (Philly), a four-point win (the first Toronto game) and a two-point win (Milwaukee).  It's rare for a coin to flip over as heads over and over, even if technically it's a 50% chance each time.  We'll really know this team is for real once they start blowing out bad teams.  In the meantime, they're still getting there, but they still have a ways to go.

"I just tried to outthink him, but he outthought me."

"Yeah, we can say that." (that's in response to Flip's comments).  Did say though "We're not starting the game the way we should be."

"I thought about [going for the three], but I figured it's what he expected.  That's how I got so wide open, because he pushed up on me thinking I was going to go back for the three."