WASHINGTON -- Six years can be a really long time. In D.C., it was long enough for much of the city to bail on the Wizards, leaving Verizon Center as a typically hollow venue occasionally packed with bandwagon Heat or Knick fans. As someone who only moved to Washington in 2010, these were the memories of the Wizards that I had.
That is, until I walked into the building on Friday. Roaring crowds, blaring music, crazy dudes on their feet swinging stuff around their heads -- this was it. This was THE PLAYOFFS. You wouldn't have doubted it for a second once you stepped in.
It makes the 100-97 loss to the Bulls all the more sobering, but after that night, an article of frustration would feel misplaced. This was a night to be proud of D.C.'s passion for basketball, and while the team couldn't capture that energy on the court, they understand the kind of opportunity they missed.
"It was great. It was exciting. This was everything that my teammates and I have been waiting for," point guard John Wall said after the game. "Especially me for four years. The sad part is that we didn't get the win but we just have to regroup and prepare ourselves for Sunday."
Indeed, all eyes turn to Sunday's Game 4 with the series firmly in the balance. Wall had a solid game Friday, lighting up the crowd with a number of highlight plays, but he also missed two pivotal free throws late. And for all the talk of composure and embracing the limelight, Nene's fourth-quarter ejection felt out of place for a veteran leader.
"It's over. You need to move [on], that's what I'm doing" Nene said of the altercation with Jimmy Butler that got him ejected -- and potentially suspended -- late in the game.
Certainly, moving on would be easier if we knew the Wizards would still be working with a full deck in Game 4, but that's how the team is taking this. Game 3 was a positive, learning experience, and when the fans pour in again on Sunday, the Wizards will be ready. There's certainly no lack of confidence around these parts.
"There was never a doubt in my mind or a moment where I thought we were going to lose. Never," Bradley Beal said. "No matter how many points we were down or how much time was left. Nah, I didn't think it was possible."
After claiming he wouldn't allow Mike Dunleavy to score again after halftime on Friday, maybe Bradley should cool off with the proclamations, but the point stands. Game 3 didn't discourage the Wizards. They got beat by "White America," they know it, and they're not planning to let it happen again.
"We weren't focused from the beginning," Beal said. "We had a lot of mishaps. We were slipping, not switching stuff, not really denying like we were supposed to from the start. That kinda hurt us. It eventually picked up, but there were a lot of moments where we slacked off."
In the playoffs, slacking off isn't an option. Frankly, it's a little odd to hear Beal talk about being so confident the team would win, not long after discussing a lack of focus, sloppy defensive switching and the kind of stuff that results from a lack of (or too much) energy. But this where the team is at -- highly confident, even while on the learning curve.
Which is why we should all still be excited for Sunday. Maybe the raucous crowds weren't enough to win Game 3, but the players, fans and everyone else in the arena felt what was happening, and it was freaking awesome. Wizards postseason basketball at Verizon Center is truly a different experience, and a major departure from what's gone on the past few years.
Even if the team lost Friday, there's a lot to hang our hats on. All those articles about D.C. not caring? Guffaw. This is the hometown of Kevin Durant, Elgin Baylor, Adrian Dantley and countless others. This is a city where you can go out to the park and see kids ballin' out at pretty much any hour of any day. We're a hoops town, and on Friday we showed it.
Now if could just win this damn series, everything would be golden.
"It was definitely great to have everybody behind us, every time we scored and every time we got a stop, having our backs basically," Beal said. "It was definitely awesome playing in front of these guys."