For Christmas, my girlfriend bought me tickets to last night's game. When she gave me tickets, neither one of us had any idea what kind of a spectacle would precede last night's game.
As soon as the news broke on Friday about Gilbert and Javaris, I started to ponder what the crowd would do when Gilbert was introduced. Yes, he has done a lot for the franchise in the time that he has been here. But Gilbert isn't the first player in this franchise that has done plenty to both help and hurt the team. Wes Unseld led the Bullets to their one and only championship, but he held the team back for years because of his coaching and management decisions. Chris Webber helped make the Bullets relevant again after years of ineptitude, but he left the team worse off when they were forced to trade him for cents on the dollar because of his transgressions. And of course Michael Jordan filled seats over and over again while he was in Washington, but his management decisions undid the foundation of what appeared to be a solid rebuilding project.
With it looking more and more like Gilbert could follow in the footsteps of those men, I wasn't sure how the crowd would react. I was ready for anything, yet I was still surprised by the overall reaction. There weren't any boos that I could hear, but there wasn't a roaring ovation to show support either. It was just mild applause, as if nothing had transpired over the last 24 hours. More than anything else, I think the crowd's lack of response one way or another shows what two years of losing basketball can do to create apathy within a fan base.
The gun controversy did little to change the crowd's reaction, and it did even less to break the bad habits we have seen out of the Wizards this season, especially early in the game. The Wizards were far too aggressive in helping, which left too many Spurs with open shots. The open shots didn't create themselves right away, but you could see the confidence the Spurs had working their offense. They knew if they continued to work the ball around that eventually one of the Wizards would make the wrong rotation and someone would have a quality shot. Even though the Wizards had 11 more attempts than the Spurs inside 10 feet and they shot five percent better on those shots, the Spurs were able to out-shoot Washington because they knocked down their open jumpers. When you can get open jump shots in the rhythm of your offense, it can negate whatever shortcomings you have with inside scoring very quickly.
On the other end of the court, you could see how the Wizards' inability to trust each other cost them in the closing minutes. Washington was able to keep it close through the first three quarters thanks to some fine drives from Arenas and Butler, as well as some quality inside and outside shooting from Antawn Jamison. Yet I couldn't help shake the feeling that the Wizards were due for a cold snap. The Big 3 were all making shots, but they were either thanks to clear lanes to the hoop, or contested shots. As the game went on, those lanes to the hoop kept getting narrower and narrower as the Spurs adjusted their defensive coverage to cut off penetration. Without the penetration, the Wizards didn't have an offensive system to rely on like the Spurs did. They also knew they couldn't rely on the Spurs' defense to break down as long as they stuck to the system, unlike the Spurs. That's why the Spurs were able to close their game in textbook fashion, while the Wizards fell apart.
The differences in execution between San Antonio clearly illustrated the differences between a franchise with a system in place to put their players in the best position to succeed, and one that has to rely on superstars to be at their best to stay competitive. As we've seen over the last few days relying on stars to save a franchise doesn't always save a franchise from internal problems and the need for a complete overhaul. Last night showed how relying on your stars to fix problems on the court doesn't work either.
Snap Reaction: The differences in offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage can all be tied back to running the offense and ball movement. Not only did the Spurs assist on more of their baskets, but they had a better distribution of assists amongst everyone on the roster. The Spurs had six players with at least two assists, the Wizards only had two.
Lineup Details, via Popcorn Machine
Highest individual plus/minus: DeShawn Stevenson (+5 in 6 minutes)
Lowest individual plus/minus: Antawn Jamison (-14 in 41 minutes)
Best five-man unit: Earl Boykins/Randy Foye/Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison/Brendan Haywood (+4 in the second quarter)
- Worst five-man unit: Gilbert Arenas//Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison/Andray Blatche/Brendan Haywood (-8 to start the game)
Snap Reaction: A little weird to see DeShawn with the highest plus/minus on the team, and the only Wizards with a positive rating, while Antawn had the lowest. I wouldn't get too caught up on that tonight. Jamison played heavy minutes tonight, so he was on the court through the lows, as well as the highs. You can't blame him for his play tonight.
Flip's big lineup had some real issues defending during their first stint, but they put together a positive stint when they opened the second half. It's probably worth noting, however, that Flip never went back to his starting lineup after they played together to open the first and second half.