This ... was frustrating.
When the Wizards responded to Detroit's run by tying the score at 76, I thought they'd use that as a springboard to come back. Instead, Detroit's small lineup broke the Wizards' defense down, and Washington's offense got stuck in neutral in a disappointing 96-85 loss that stopped a four-game winning streak.
There are a lot of people that can be blamed for this loss. But let's get to that in a second.
The beginning of the fourth quarter was where this game started to go. The Wizards got stuck on 70 points forever, and yet Wall didn't return to the game until the 7:40 mark. Kevin Seraphin ... man, what was that stretch? Please don't try driving to the basket from the three-point line ever again. Also, be ready to make a play before you get the ball so you don't waste a pocket bounce pass form Beal.
The Pistons had serious scoring issues of their own, but that soon changed. A four-point play by Charlie Villanueva gave them a 71-70 lead, and that was just the beginning. Will Bynum capitalized on a missed free throw rebound to score to push Detroit's lead to four, then after a Nene miss, Bynum found some person named Viacheslav Kravtsov for an alley-oop dunk to give Detroit a six-point lead. The Pistons went small during this stretch and the Wizards did not match up well at all.
The Wizards responded quickly, which I did not expect. On the first play out of a timeout, Nene made a strong move to get right on Kravtsov in the post and hit a layup. Having a guy like Nene who can do this when you need it most is such a huge luxury for a coach. After a Pistons miss, Trevor Ariza made a strong baseline move for a layup, and then the Wizards forced a turnover and got Ariza a transition layup to tie the game at 76.
But just as quickly as they came back, they let things slip away. Blame Will Bynum, who absolutely torched the Wizards in pick and roll situations. He hit one jumper at the end of the shot clock when Wall couldn't be bothered to put his hand up, drove past Wall for a layup and then got to the rim and dished to Jose Calderon for a corner three. The 9-0 Pistons run put them up, 85-76, and a Villanueva three a couple possessions later sealed it for good.
OK, so let's talk about blame.
A lot of people will wonder why Emeka Okafor did not play in the fourth quarter after beasting in the first three. Okafor had 20 points and nine rebounds in three quarters, so why did he not play when the game was slipping away?
It's a legitimate question given how the game ended, but it's not quite so simple. Randy Wittman was clearly concerned that Okafor and Nene couldn't defend Detroit's small lineup, since one of them would have been chasing Villanueva out to the three-point line. In his mind, the choice was Okafor or Nene, and it's hard to take Nene out.Keep in mind also that going big to start the game and the third quarter is what killed the Wizards against the Bucks on Monday. It was only when they went small that they were able to match up with Ersan Ilyasova. Given that context, I can understand why Wittman made the decision he made.
Now, there is also a point to be made that the Wizards could have dictated the terms of engagement more by playing both big men and pounding the Pistons in the post. To that, I say ... maybe, but it's also trickier to get the ball in the post in the fourth quarter when defenses cheat off perimeter players. The stage was set in the second quarter when the Wizards were sloppy defending Detroit's small lineup, and I don't think a huge tactical change to try to go big would have fixed things.
(If you want to make the case for Okafor over Nene, I guess that's a different argument. Also: Webster should have been in over Ariza).
Ultimately, the bigger problem is that the Wizards' guards played really bad defense on Bynum, Beal got involved in too many isolation plays and Wall did not make good decisions. Blaming lineups distracts from realer issues that caused this loss. Wall's inability to defend anyone tonight was especially disappointing after he did so well against Jennings. Wittman's play-calling late was probably a bigger problem than his rotations, because Beal kept getting the ball in isolations, which are clearly not his strength.
Oh well. Good time for a break.