Does momentum exist? I don't know. It's a human behavior in a world where we don't always have the most scientific ways to explain human behavior. The brain is difficult to understand, so we either choose to apply momentum universally or dismiss it as a meaningless cliche. It's neither.
I don't understand exactly what happened inside the Wizards' brains from the end of the second quarter on, but something went very wrong. The controlled offense, decent enough defense and command of the game's pace was threatened by a couple tough Blazers jumpers at the end of the half, leading to an unfortunate two-point deficit.
Little did we know that things were about to fall apart. Threes. More threes. Even more three. My god please stop with the threes. Anyone want to prevent the Blazers from getting all those threes? A brief hot stretch from John Wall kept things close briefly, but otherwise, it was 26 disastrous minutes after 22 really strong ones and a 116-103 loss. Momentum, whatever that means, was never recovered.
Tactically, the problem was simple. In the first half, the Wizards did enough with their pick and roll defense to induce the ball handler to try to make a play. Any shots that resulted were out of rhythm, even if they appeared open enough. But Portland adjusted in the second half by taking the Wizards traps and quickly moving the ball to the roll man or elsewhere. The Wizards' help defenders were stuck in quicksand, and Portland's pristine ball movement resulted in tons of open threes. Game, set, match.
The Blazers have the ability to do this against even the very best teams, so to some extent, shit happens. Some of the shots they hit were very tough. But many more were not, especially early in that third quarter. Trevor Booker kept losing Dorell Wright all over the court, and when that happens, everyone else has to compensate, which only leaves other players open. Later on, the Wizards kept trapping with their hands down, making any pass out of the double easy. Rotations happened after the building was burning, not before the warning signs were evident. Drew Gooden, bless his soul, was running around like a headless chicken. Martell Webster continued to confound with his slow movements. The injured Marcin Gortat was badly missed tonight.
It's not like the offense was anything special either. The Blazers are one of those teams that happily cede mid-range jumpers, and you know how the Wizards feel about those shots. Save for Wall's hot three-point shooting, it was all jumpers. Many, many jumpers. Bradley Beal pull-up jumpers. Gooden pick and pop line drives. Gortat wasn't around to run pick and roll and occasionally post up, and Kevin Seraphin had a short leash, so the offense was terribly one-dimensional.
This was always going to be a tough one without Gortat, but you at least expected a more competitive effort defensively. The Wizards had the formula for success going early and were in good position even with Portland hitting enough shots to stay close. Then, that end of the half stretch happened, the lead turned into a deficit and the all-powerful, elusive, intangible and misunderstood concept known as momentum reared its ugly head.