These games against the Pistons are never easy. They're long and athletic up front, which is the perfect antidote against a team that prides itself on playing through the post on offense. Washington's frontcourt may not have stepped up the way they had hoped, but it didn't matter. Their franchise player took matters into his own hands, getting to the free throw line 16 times en route to his 27-point, 11-assist performance, helping Washington escape with a narrow victory over Detroit, 107-103.
This was the quintessential John Wall game. When Brandon Jennings was rolling, it was him stepping up, fighting through screens and pressuring him the second he crossed half court. When his own offense stagnated, he took it upon himself to push the pace. He split double-teams effortlessly, got to the free throw line and found shooters when he didn't have a path to the basket. And when things got tight late, it was him making all of the right plays. He rejected a Paul Pierce screen, completely fooling his defender, got into the paint and sunk the runner in the lane to take the lead. On the next possession, he masterfully set up the high-low action between Nene and Gortat that got the lead up to three.
Tonight, Wall took charge and saved a so-so Wizards effort. This is what you want out of your franchise player.
Three things we learned:
1. Brandon Jennings got hot early on.
We're quick to assume Wall is at fault whenever a point guard goes off on the Wizards, but this had just as much to do with some bad luck -- like Jennings circling around the basket, stepping behind the line and hitting a four-point play -- and poor transition defense.
The first three came after Jennings intercepted a poor outlet pass from Gortat as he tried to find Wall streaking down court.. He casually jogged back up court, and no one bothers to pick him up. Easy three.
On the next three, Garrett Temple inexplicably went under the Jennings screen and got burnt. I thought Garrett has really struggled out of the gates on defense. The reason why he's touted as a specialist is because he was exactly that coming off the bench in limited minutes. Now he's a starter and we're beginning to see some of his shortcomings. He's great as a change-of-pace, and as someone who can just pressure ball handlers, but I think it's fair to say that style of defense doesn't hold up when he has to keep his head on a swivel and avoid getting hit by screens in the half court. He's been fairly inattentive as far as knowing when to go over/under screens.
2. Washington's bigs are slow and can't jump.
I sound like a broken record here -- and complaining so much when the Wizards are currently fifth in defensive efficiency is probably an overreaction -- but I'm not ready to buy their early season defensive success just yet. It's way too transparent right now: When Marcin Gortat leaves the game, the Wizards have no chance. Guards are getting into the lane at will on this team, and before you point to Wall or Temple, look at what happens when they're screened off and unable to recover:
That's too easy for Jennings, who blows by Kris Humphries, then finished at the hoop despite Kevin Seraphin's lazy attempt to slide over from the weak side. Here's what followed in the first five minutes of the second quarter against the Humphries/Seraphin duo: D.J. Augustin got into the lane off a screen and roll and got a layup, Jonas Jerebko scored at the rim, then Greg Monroe got inside position down low and converted.
There's no real solution to this, but one has to think the reason Seraphin is getting an extended look early on is because he's the only other option to protect the rim. But if he's not doing that, why not embrace small-ball and get Pierce minutes at the 4?
3. John Wall was fearless.
I have never seen Wall put his head down and attack the basket the way he did tonight. We've always assumed it had to do with him wanting to preserve his body, but tonight, none of it mattered. He didn't bother slowing down to wait for his shooters and it didn't faze him when there were multiple defenders back. I wouldn't expect this style of play to continue, but man, that was fun to watch.