Monday evening, I sat drumming my fingers, pondering what to be thankful for with the angry reluctance of a Wizards fan who is told to look to the ever-receding future. Then Nene, Jordan Crawford and Cartier Martin came out wearing suits. 'Ah,' I thought. 'I wonder if Kendrick Perkins will bother to dress? I can't handle much more negativity, much less write it.'
Heebus, Mehri and Yosuph.
Fourth-quarter games. That was the philosophy Scott Brooks espoused to his budding legion of stars before the Thunder took the top-seeded Lakers to game 6 in the first round of the playoffs and officially called 'Next' in the contenders conversation. That was our first metric for gauging progress in the Wizards rebuild as we sought to calibrate our expectations. That has been our sole sustenance for years. That got stale. Why?
Pointless fourth quarter games. Close contests was the metric, but how often was getting there the result of hero ball that worked because statistically it can't fail all the time? Of transient veterans and veteran transients? (i.e. Kirk Hinrich versus Roger Mason, Jr.) The answer of course is those games got stale because the quality of the process that produced them was poor. Looking forward in 2011, Mike's ingenius Missed Assist Tracker was the only light in the tunnel. Why?
When the Wizards beat the Thunder for their second win in 2011, each and every Wizards fan knew in their hearts Trevor Booker was not going to be the 22 points a game guy. 12-14 ppg, we dared to hope for. When Jordan Crawford, who has matured this season, scored 39 points against the Heat, his shot selection drew Marge Simpson's concerned mumble-groan roughly every third possession and many if not most games since. Competitiveness came on the backs of unsustainable performances and not by design in a rebuild that is all about premeditated design. So where is this foreshadowed optimism coming from?
Earned fourth quarter games. The first not-just-John Wall flash came (for me) against the Hawks last year. Wall and new acquisition Nene combined for a game-winning pick-and-roll that looked like something fans might actually expect when this team gets good. Bradley Beal blowing up the Thunder with red-hot shooting from three while delivering the dagger with .3 seconds remaining on the game clock is the holiday gift fans deserved and needed, right-now.
But this win was more than simply making those shots. Nick Young got hot from time to time and that never felt like the start of something. Bradley Beal went Rambo on the Oklahoma City Thunder with Kevin Durant draining a clutch three only seconds before to cap off a dominant performance. (Beal also held his opposite number, the hyper-efficient Kevin Martin, to an execrable performance.) Yes, the Wizards were ridiculously and unsustainably hot from three. At least by this season's standards. Jan Vesely was 5-6 from the field for crying out loud.
But not a one of the players out there tonight had a game in excess of how fans view their potential and how they envision them meeting it. The process of how the team arrived Monday night's fourth quarter game felt replicable for a franchise sorely in need of consistency. We saw what the run-you-off-the-court-defense Wizards can do with elite three point shooting, something fans have been screaming for since John Wall was drafted.
Regardless, watching BB3 play John McClane (Ho, ho, ho. Now I have confidence.) with Jan Vesely as
Carl Winslow Al Powell (he totally shot that one dude!) and Martell Webster shoving a lightning bolt up the Thunder's @$$ as Zeus while the rest of the team put in solid performances felt like a window into a future we can believe in. Looking at the team play and looking back on the game now, I thought 'We can be this.' Forgive my use of the first person.
When I listen to Steve Buckhantz screaming 'Dagger!', I hear the same recognition. I hear a raw edge of pain at the end of that call that tells me this man bleeds the same as we all do at the end of every close loss with no end in sight. Steve Buckhantz screamed 'Dagger!' like he's been narrating the NBA version of 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' for five years. The dawn is coming, though still too early to know what kind of day it will be. Onwards, Wizards soldiers.