The 1-12 Washington Wizards beat the 12-2 Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-102, on Wednesday night.
To be honest, I'm still not sure how that happened. The game started off so badly for the Wizards, and it always seemed like the Thunder would keep the Wizards at arm's length. Then, the beginning of the fourth quarter happened, and the Wizards were leading. But even then, you figured Kevin Durant would get hot, the Wizards would make bad decisions in the half-court and they would somehow found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It didn't happen, mostly because John Wall and Nick Young simply wouldn't let it happen. Finally, you figured, hey, the Wizards would find a way to screw it up when no other team would. That almost happened, but alas, it didn't, and the Wizards held on for the win.
Some more notes on the most improbable win of the season.
Chris Singleton really struggled guarding Durant early. On the first play of the game, Singleton lost Durant on a simple screen and allowed him to get to the basket for a reverse layup, which he missed. On the third play of the game, Durant backed Singleton down and scored on him in the post. On the fifth or sixth play, a simple right-to-left crossover froze Singleton, and Durant would have had a layup if he didn't lose it. Finally, Singleton lost Durant on a curl cut, allowing him to get an easy layup.
- Young took some really, really bad shots early, the kind of shots that this team always takes. Long, contested jumpers early in the shot clock. Meanwhile, Andray Blatche got scared by one drive where Serge Ibaka stuffed him and decided not to drive when Wall fed him the ball on the secondary break. He also committed a pretty blatant travel when he got the ball in the high post and Ibaka closed out on him.
- Things began to improve when Trevor Booker checked in and the Wizards went small. I know people are going to harp on punishing JaVale McGee for taking him out, but it's hard to deny the Wizards played better after that change was made. Booker did Booker things, and while Russell Westbrook still overpowered Wall, the Wizards' offense had much better spacing and more open lanes to drive and secure offensive rebounds.
- Really nice, under-control fast break from Wall late in the first quarter. Booker ran the floor, and Wall waited to see if the defense would commit to him. If they did, Booker was open. They didn't, and Wall glided in for a lefty layup.
Jordan Crawford played better in his second-quarter stint than what I've seen from him this year. I liked how he made stronger moves to the basket to force contact, though it helped that the Thunder played off him on pick and rolls for some reason. This, in short, was the Crawford we saw all of last year -- attacking the rim instead of settling for fadeaway jumpers.
- Saunders gave McGee a quick hook again in the second quarter, and things began to improve again. I know McGee's individual numbers have improved this year, but this speaks to a lot of what Kevin Broom wrote earlier today. Despite whatever strides he's making, there are many stretches where the team just plays better with him on the bench. There are also stretches where he's making a huge difference for the team, but let's not pretend those stretches always happen.
- (Of course, in the first half on this night, the same thing could be said about Young, who was forcing a lot of shots).
- Favorite sequence of the season to date: Crawford played great defense keeping Westbrook in front of him, dove on the floor to secure the loose ball, pitched it ahead to Wall, who found Lewis at the perfect time streaking on the left side for a dunk. Crawford did a much better job on Westbrook than Wall did. Westbrook just roasted him.
- Crawford took a couple Crawford shots at the end, two of which went in, and the third missed when he should have pulled it out and held for one shot. Not a great close to the half for the Wizards.
- Bad start to the second half. First, McGee goaltended a shot when it was obviously on the way down. Then, Blatche ruined a nice pass from Young because he was slow to rotate to the basket. Finally, Wall, uh, missed a layup.
- Blatche being slow to dive down the lane cost him again when Serge Ibaka blocked his shot. This isn't even a strength issue really. It's a court awareness issue. Quicker dives to the rim will lead to free throws at least.
- The Wizards really don't run their offense crisply when the starters are in the game. Everything's a beat late. On one play, they were running McGee into the post, but the entry pass was late because the pick and pop action to set up the entry pass was slow. That forced McGee to go against Kendrick Perkins when he was set, and Perkins swallowed it up.
- Wall does far better as a ball-handler when he uses the screens presented to him instead of declining them and trying to catch the defender off-balanced, especially when he crosses over left-to-right. He tried declining one and got caught, killing the Wizards' offensive flow and forcing a horrible Blatche fadeaway. A couple plays later, though, Wall used McGee's screen to go left and accelerated past Kendrick Perkins for a lefty layup. Trust your ball screens, John, and go away from them only on occasion.
- I didn't think Young's play really picked up much from an all-around standpoint in the third quarter, but he started hitting some shots, which helped keep the Wizards in it. I'd still like to see him start shot-faking and getting to the basket. The shots he hit weren't great shots, but as well all know, he's capable of going on a run like that. The fourth quarter was a much different story.
- The above blurb can apply to everyone on the Wizards in that third quarter. I didn't think they really did anything special, but the shots were going down, and that made their performance look a little better than it seemed.
- Crawford kept looking like the Crawford from last year. Sure, he forced some shots, but he was active and looking to make plays instead of looking to take shots.
- Jan Vesely can't shoot or score, but he still makes things happen. In the last couple games, you see why Ernie Grunfeld drafted him. Not making a value judgment one way or the other, but the theory is while you can always teach a player skills, it's much harder to teach court sense. Again, just putting that out there.
- Saunders really went to his bag of tricks with this lineup: Wall, Crawford, Young, Vesely and McGee. To be honest, I kind of like it. McGee got more space to move without the ball thanks to Vesely's court sense occupying other defenders.
- Wall was very good in this game in making the right decisions on the pick and roll. He's capable, but often doesn't get a chance early in games. It seems simple, but Saunders should start involving Wall in more pick and rolls, both at the top of the key and on the wings. Have these be more of a focus instead of baseline screens. I think you squander so much of Wall's talent by making him hold the ball at the top of the key waiting for Young to get open or for a Hawk cut to develop.
- Young did a really great job guarding Durant in the fourth quarter. He stayed in front of him and forced him to shoot over the top, contesting the shots nicely. Credit where credit is due: he was out of it early on, and he got into it later.
- Free throws, man.
- Two tough calls on Westbrook's score to cut it to two. He pushed off on Wall, then McGee appeared to snatch the shot before it came down.
- It's only fitting that Wall took a charge to essentially seal the game. In the last three fourth quarters he's played, he's been the best player on the floor. This is everything he is capable of being, and it's starting to happen. Now, granted, only three games, but we always have to remember that the kinds of slumps we saw from Wall to begin the year often happen with young players, especially those beginning their second year.
What a win. See you later with quotes.