When you play a lot of close games, sometimes the bounces go your way. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and all that. Sure, you need to execute late in games, but sometimes, the real battle is just getting there and letting the chips fall where they may.
The Washington Wizards did not look like they were even going to get there against the Minnesota Timberwolves. As Kevin Love and company rained threes in a scary first half, the Wizards' defense looked hopeless. There wasn't much time for them to put themselves in a position to make their own luck.
But make their own luck they did. The defense stepped up big-time in the second half, with everyone showing dogged pursuit on the ball that hasn't been seen often this year. John Wall fought off whatever back pain he had to attack the rim, and several players were stretched beyond their normal minute levels to do what was necessary.
And then, for once, the Wizards got lucky. A series of weird bounces, odd passes, missed travels and three-second violations culminated in an unlikely three-pointer by Martell Webster with under a minute left, and after one last tough defensive stand by Bradley Beal on Kevin Martin, the Wizards had enough to come away with the 104-100 win.
Maybe it's a stretch to say preparation met opportunity here. But certainly, desperation met opportunity. That desperation needs to be on display for the rest of the season if the Wizards are to crawl out of this hole.
Onto the game notes.
- Generally an aggressive start for John Wall, which was good. He did take one bad jumper early in the shot clock, but he seems determined to drive in secondary transition situations. He did nearly turn it over once, but in general, it's better for him to attack.
- By contrast, Bradley Beal ... did not start so well. On the first play, he let Kevin Martin get to his strong hand for a layup. Later, he got beat badly on a backdoor cut. Those were awful breakdowns. He also was still tentative coming off the pick and roll, and that led to his turnover and a phantom second foul that sent him to the bench.
- The Wolves are so tough to stop. They came out of the first timeout and ran a play where a guard slammed into Kevin Love's man as he popped open for three. Swish. Love then embarrassed Trevor Booker later, and suddenly they had 27 points in less than nine minutes. The Wizards didn't defend well, but Minnesota does this to a lot of teams.
- You saw just a tiny glimpse of what the Wizards saw way back in 2011 when they picked Jan Vesely right when he checked in. Eric Maynor dribble probed under the basket, getting himself caught like he often does, but Vesely bailed him out with a timely cut down the lane for a layup. Maynor was screwed without that cut by Vesely.
- The sad possession by Beal at the 8:59 mark, where he came off a pick and roll, was stuffed by Alexey Shved, recovered, then was stuffed by Dante Cunningham, is everything that's been wrong with him this season. He has to attack and make himself a threat instead of easing into the play.
- The Wizards have guarded the three-point line terribly all season. That continued in the first half. Too much aggressive trapping and induced rotations instead of channeling attempts to mid-range and fighting through screens. This is reminding me of the Philadelphia game at home.
- The only way the Wizards have scored and stayed in it has been by running the floor. Wall has plenty of lanes and was generally aggressive at attacking them and finding teammates. It helps that Love wore out his index finger pointing for teammates to pick up his man as he lays back on the other end.
- Critical lapse in concentration to end the half. Wall was forced into an awful fadeaway three because nobody was cutting with a purpose as he tried to create something. Wall nearly got burned later when he let J.J. Barea get to the rim to end the half, but Barea missed the layup. A chance to cut into the lead further only resulted in it swelling to 12.
- Credit to the Wizards: they started taking more pride in their individual defense in the third quarter instead of trying to rely on help. And Wall as a free safety was mostly working, though he did fall asleep and let Corey Brewer sneak backdoor for a critical layup that put Minnesota up five. Beal in particular picked up his effort against Kevin Martin.
- Did not like Marcin Gortat shooting a fadeaway when the Wizards had a chance to take the lead. The Wizards tried milking an early post-up, but once it was clear nothing was there, Gortat should have kicked it back out for a re-set.
- What I do love about Gortat: his soft hands. Wall threw him a ton of difficult passes to catch in traffic, and he hauled in every one.
- Free safety Wall works well when it's someone like Rubio or Brewer that he's helping off. He caused a lot of havoc by playing in passing lanes, being around the ball and the like. It's not the most meat-and-potatoes strategy, but it works when the other team's point guard isn't much of an off-ball threat.
- It was really big that the Wizards were able to play +3 ball while Wall sat to begin the fourth quarter. Wittman kept Beal in because he sat a bit in the first half and left Martell in even though he had played 31 minutes to date. Nevertheless, a frontcourt of Booker and Vesely held Minnesota down, with the help of some missed easy shots and bad Timberwolves defense.
- The offense really stagnated midway through the fourth quarter, with the Wizards taking too long to get into various screen plays for Beal. They held onto the league primarily because of a couple great defensive plays. Nene stoned Kevin Love near the rim on a game-tying attempt, and Webster flew in for a big rebound. That could have been bad.
- The offense stayed stagnated down the stretch, but they made just enough plays to win it at the end. That was big.