Had to run some errands this afternoon, so I ran out of time to do the standard long preview. My bad.
I'm going to do final wraps for both games tomorrow, but I want to say this about the Denver game, because it needs to be said: the difference in last night's game was a coaching call. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Wizards were down nine. We were heading towards one of those ideal losses at the beginning of a long rebuild like this, one where everyone fought hard, showed flashes, but ultimately lost because the other team was just too good. Again, that's not a bad loss, but it certainly wouldn't have spurred the type of optimism we've seen on here in the past 18 hours.
That is, until Flip threw out that ballsy lineup of Earl Boykins, Nick Young, Josh Howard, Al Thornton and James Singleton. If we're going to suggest that our current crop of players has basically said "Eff it, I'm just going to play as hard as possible and see what happen," then we have to give Flip Saunders credit for basically saying "Eff it, let me just do something crazy." It was such a wacky lineup that it worked. Flip knew he had no chance in a traditional game, so he channeled his inner Don Nelson and tried to change the tempo of the game. It worked incredibly and he left it in there the entire time.
I'd argue it was Flip's finest coaching moment all season. As I watched that last quarter, my first thought was not "Damn, we're hustling way more than ever," but rather, "Damn, I can't believe Flip Saunders of all coaches tried this lineup." Credit Al Thornton for playing unbelievable man-to-man defense, credit Nick Young for hanging in there against Chauncey Billups, credit Josh Howard for getting back to being the Howard of old and credit James Singleton for his energy, but credit Flip Saunders even more.
What I heard from Flip after the game was encouraging too. He talked about the need to play "like a pack of mad dogs," rather than like the classic execution-oriented teams he's usually coached. The offense last night was as simplified as I've seen it all season. There were more classic post-ups, more isolations closer to the hoop for the small forwards and more high pick and rolls than ever. There weren't any complicated plays that are tough for a team like this to understand. Just simple stuff. We need that to continue this season to have any chance.
As Saunders walked out of the press conference, I took one last look at the box score and noticed that every active player on the roster got into the game. I asked Saunders whether that's something to expect going forward. "You'll see that a lot," Saunders said, before exiting out the side door. That's music to my ears right there. A coach has to set the proper parameters to get his players to really fight tooth and nail like last night, and for this particular team, that strategy is what it has to be to make things work.
Quick notes about tonight:
- Chris Bosh won't play, according to Holly MacKenzie of SLAM and The Score in Toronto.
- JaVale McGee apparently sprained his wrist and had it taped during warmups, according to Michael Lee.
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas is already back in Cleveland, even though no buyout has been agreed upon. Good. We don't need him anyway.
GO WIZARDS! THREE IN A ROW!