Gleaning any serious nuts-and-bolts talking points from the Wizards' 103-78 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night was next to impossible, because the Wizards failed at the most fundamental rule of all: being ready to play.
That much was made very clear in Flip Saunders' post-game press conference. Saunders fumed the entire time, saying he thought his starters "got their ass kicked." He also said he took them out all at once early in the third quarter because he was "tired of looking at that shit." No question: Saunders was mad.
"With how hard we played in practice, where there were six or seven days where we competed, that didn't translate over. That's the one thing I was hoping to see. That's the one thing I was waiting to see," Saunders said. "[Instead], we came out kind of too cool."
The question here is why. Well, not in a direct "why is he mad" sense, because his team played horribly and he should be mad for that. The question, to me, is why Saunders reacted so strongly after a preseason where he touted his team. On the one hand, he probably felt let down by his players for the effort they gave. That much is obvious. On the other hand, Saunders has to know that ultimately, a team not being ready to play is a reflection on him as a coach.
That's why, to me, Saunders' post-game press conference was more about changing the narrative than anything. For the past week, we've heard him say how well this team was practicing, how ahead of schedule they were picking up his defensive concepts. After what we witnessed on Friday, it's hard to take that seriously, and he knew it. So he pivoted, called out his players and changed the narrative a bit. His public approach touting his team seemed to fail last night, so now he's hoping this public approach provides a spark.
I'm not blaming anyone more than anyone else for last night here. The players didn't show up. All I'm saying is that this seems incredibly early for strong public statements. Either the players deserved it or Saunders overreacted. Neither is a good thing.
Four Factors (Bold=very good | Italics=very bad)
Snap Reaction: Couldn't find these, sorry.
Highest individual plus/minus: Shelvin Mack and Kevin Seraphin (-1 in 22 minutes)
Lowest individual plus/minus: John Wall (-24 in 26 minutes)
Best five-man unit: Shelvin Mack, Roger Mason, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin (+11 in 7:55 stretch in fourth quarter)
Worst five-man unit: John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee (-8 in 1:22 stretch to begin second half)
Snap Reaction: Flip was right. The starters did get their butt whooped.
If there was some substance to be gleaned from the postgame media availability, it was that everyone believed the team didn't play together. Offensively, the Wizards had 10 assists and 20 turnovers. Saunders said the ball stuck in players' hands, which makes sense. He especially called out the starters for taking too many forced shots early.
"When you go into games as an individual and you think about trying to get yourself going, that becomes very contagious," Saunders said. "That first group, everyone who touched the ball, the ball was going up."
That was in direct contrast to the 76ers, who moved offensively like a team that had developed chemistry from having all their guys back last year.
"They were playing more as a team," Chris Singleton said. "We were just one pass, then shot."
The Wizards' first unit also played pretty bad defense. Saunders said on media day that the team didn't really practice their pick-and-roll defense much, and it showed. Jrue Holiday carved up the Wizards' defenders on the pick and roll, and here, everyone is at fault. Wall was really bad at forcing the ball-handler one way, and the big man, whether it was McGee or Blatche, didn't come over to cut off the drive.
Speaking of Blatche, he was very upset after the game. Blatche played badly like everyone else, but with 18 points on 11 shots, at least he scored relatively efficiently. In his newish capacity as a leader, Blatche called out two unnamed teammates for poor defensive performance.
"The second group came in and played great defense. Why can't the first team do the same?" he said. "From the starters, probably 2-3 guys had their heart on defense. The other two guys were lost and out of sorts. We can't have that."
He immediately realized his error and tweeted soon thereafter that he'll take the blame and he should have done more. In the locker next to him, Roger Mason was much more calm, saying that while he doesn't want to make excuses, the Wizards have some new faces and they all know they need to pick it up. He was disappointed in the team's effort, but his face looked the same as it would after any game.
As for Wall, who Saunders said played "terrible," he was somewhere in between. His answers didn't really reveal anything one way or the other. He briefly said he was fouled on some of his turnovers, but clarified to say he has to play through it anyway and still "turned the ball over too much." He did say, calmly, that the way the team played was "disrespectful to the whole team and the coaching staff," and that the team didn't take the shootaround seriously. Still, given Saunders' fury, I expected a little more anger from Wall himself.
Maybe they were all just tired. Who knows. Maybe they all knew Saunders was right. Maybe they knew there was little purpose to them also going off, since Saunders did it for them. Nevertheless, it is interesting to me that of all the guys who talked, only Blatche showed the same kind of emotion as Saunders did.