On March 15, the Washington Wizards played against the Brooklyn Nets. After falling behind early, John Wall and Drew Gooden scored 33 and 21 points respectively, to win the game 101-94. It completed a three-game sweep over Brooklyn, but it meant even more. A video recap of the game can be seen above from the NBA's YouTube channel.
First, let's talk about the game briefly. The Wizards were fighting an uphill battle throughout the entire game. No, they weren't getting blown out of the gym, but they were behind by as many as 12 points after Nets forward Paul Pierce made a three to start the third quarter to make it a 60-48 lead. Yes, Washington got the lead down again, but for most of the game, the Nets had an answer for every push the Wizards made to make the game interesting.
Then ... the fourth quarter happened.
First, the Wizards were able to claw their way back in the first few minutes of the fourth thanks to the reserves. But what's even more impressive was the defensive intensity that the Wizards had to finish this game out. The Nets could not score a field goal in the last 6:22 of the game. And after the aforementioned Pierce made two free throws to give Brooklyn a 94-92 lead with 4:26 left, the Wizards scored nine straight points the rest of the way, and the celebration at the end of the game was huge.
At the time, Mike noted that the Wizards were effectively two games ahead of the Nets given their 35-31 and 33-31 records at the time respectively. This was due to a tiebreaker the Wizards clinched because they swept the Nets.
And oh boy did they ever need that tiebreaker. Which makes this win a pivotal moment.
From hindsight, both Washington and Brooklyn finished with identical 44-38 records in the 2013-14 season. This tiebreaker is what allowed the Wizards the chance to earn the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and a match against the #4 seed Chicago Bulls.
Assuming every other game went the same way, the Brooklyn Nets would have had a 45-37 regular season record if they beat the Wizards on March 15. That would have knocked the 43-39 Wizards down to the #6 seed and a match against the third seeded Toronto Raptors for the first round of the playoffs.
So now, here are where the What-ifs come in. If the Wizards were the 6th seeded team in the East and played the Raptors in the first round, would the national buzz have been more limited? It's almost inevitable that some of the Wizards' first round playoff games could have ended up on NBA TV because Toronto isn't an American market. After all, TNT isn't available in Canada. Neither is ESPN.
That said, I love Toronto as a city and it is a great market for the NBA.
But here's the basketball aspect to a Wizards-Raptors playoff series. Washington was 1-3 in the regular season against Toronto. Their lone win was a triple overtime thriller on February 27, and at the time, it was "the game of the year." But at the same time, I don't think the Wizards' chances against the Raptors would be as good as those against the Bulls in a seven-game series.
So if the Wizards lost this March game against the Nets, were the #6 seed in the East, and had to play the Raptors in the first round, do you think the Wizards would have advanced to the second round in a similar fashion to the way they did in real life against the Bulls? Or could things have been different? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
To view more pivotal moments from earlier in the Wizards' 2013-14 season by month, click here for our StoryStream.