Well, that was depressing. In a game that featured 19 lead changes, and a new career high for Otto Porter, the Wizards completely, utterly collapsed and lost by double digits.
A lot of things actually went well on Saturday night. Wiz shot the ball better than Atlanta (49 percent to 47 percent). They won the rebounding battle, tied Atlanta for points in the paint and second chance points, and had more fastbreak points. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter continued their defensive dominance over Kyle Korver, holding him to just 7 points, and only three 3PAs (though the Hawks also held Beal to just two 3PAs). They held the lead for most of the third quarter and were up briefly in the middle of the fourth quarter.
So the Wizards did a lot of things right. But as you all know by now, they did a few things very, very wrong, the most obvious of which is committing 25 turnovers. The most damaging of those turnovers came towards the end of the fourth quarter, allowing the Hawks to blow the game open.
Here is how mental mishaps caused the game to unravel in the final six minutes of play.
6:24 left to go in the fourth quarter - Nene had perhaps one of the best highlight plays of the game, scoring on Mike Muscala with an explosive drive to the basket. This is exactly the way we had all hoped Nene would perform against the backup centers of the league. The Wizards had a two-point lead. Momentum felt like it was maybe turning our way. The Wizards had not played well that night, having already accumulated 20 turnovers, but at this point it was anybody's game.
The Hawks take the ball up the floor. Muscala goes to set a screen for Schröder, but quickly slips to the top of the key. Wall has gone way under the screen and is sagging towards the paint to cut off Schröder’s path to the basket. Rather than paying attention to Muscala, Nene stays focused on Schröder, almost as if he expected Wall to switch (which would not have made any sense, since Schröder is shooting non-threat).
By the time he turns his attention to Muscala, Schröder has already delivered him the ball, and Nene has to run around a sagging Wall to even attempt to contest the shot. Some of this is a matchup issue – Muscala is a mobile, perimeter-oriented player who was only nominally playing center. Just as he struggled to stop Nene at the rim on the previous possession, Nene will always struggle to chase him around the perimeter. But the mismatch one that could have been greatly compensated for by better court awareness and communication. Nene did not need to help on Schröder. The Wizards are now down by one.
On the very next possession, Nene tries to bounce a pass to a cutting Wall, but Schröder is between Nene and Wall and gets his hands on the ball first. Against your average NBA backup point guard (and a lot of starters) this play probably would have worked. But Schröder is one of the faster guards in the NBA, and Nene should know that since Schröder has been burning the team all night. Turnover.
5:35 left - With the Wizards still just down one, John Wall passes the ball to Kent Bazemore, leading to a Schröder layup. Turnover, down 3.
4:05 left - John Wall makes an impressive pass…to Kent Bazemore, again. Wall was trying to hit Beal out at the three point line, but the Hawks had been diligent all night to prevent Beal from being able to catch and shoot. Bazemore was able to intercept Wall’s pass with ease.
1:17 left in the game. The Hawks are quick to get back on defense after a miss by Millsap. Porter’s got the ball in his hands at the wing. Because Beal hasn’t been able to make it up the floor, there are essentially four Hawks between Porter and the basket, two of whom have their full attention on him. Rather than wait, Porter attempts to drive between Teague and Milsap, and Teague easily strips him. The steal leads to free throws for Horford and a 16 point lead for the Hawks, and Randy Wittman concedes the game.
Live ball turnovers are mistakes that lead to more mistakes. With all their shooting big men to space the floor, the Hawks are not a team you want to deal with in transition. I mentioned earlier that the Wizards had more fastbreak points overall, but in those final six minutes the Hawks outscored them 8-0 on the break, mostly off of Wizards turnovers.
The good news is that this will probably get better. Otto Porter will learn when to attack and when to wait for help. John Wall will probably make a point of not passing the ball to Kent Bazemore again. And the whole team will get in better shape and still have gas in the tank for fourth quarter defense. But in the meantime, Wizards fans, strap in because it’s going to be a rough November.
* All data from NBA.com