Have you ever had that feeling while watching a game where you knew that it just wasn't meant to be? That's what the fourth quarter felt like as Atlanta's offense kept chugging along, following up every Washington made shot with a dagger of their own as they outlasted the Wizards, 105-96.
This wasn't like so many of the losses we've grown accustomed to during this losing streak. Yes, they fell to double-digits by halftime once again, but you'd hardly chalk it up to a lack of effort. The Wizards didn't dig themselves a hole so much as they were simply getting beat by a better team, and by the fourth quarter, they had all but erased that deficit. That's what was so frustrating about tonight.
When Paul Pierce hit his patented fadeaway over DeMarre Carroll to cut it to 7, it was Jeff Teague pushing the ball off the inbounds, running a side pick and roll from Al Horford on the left wing which Wall would go under, giving him enough time to bottom the three. Lead back to 10.
Nene would respond, flashing to the high post off a Wall/Gortat pick and roll, backing the smaller Paul Milsap down, and finishing through contact. But that very next play, Paul Piece would fight like heck to get over a double-down screen set for Carroll in order to contest, but as Carroll released the shot, his elbow would graze Pierce's arms, leaving the ref no choice but to blow the whistle. Not only did he get three free throws out of it, but Randy Wittman would get T'd up in the process.
Still, the Wizards weren't done. Beal and Wall would convert on consecutive layups to cut it to single digits, but after an untimely missed layup from Pierce that would've cut it to six, Teague would race down the floor against a backpedaling Gortat, and finish off an And-1 that would eventually seal the game.
There was no margin for error tonight. You could argue sitting Wall to begin the fourth as the primary reason for falling short, but the truth is, the Wizards had to play a flawless second half to even have a chance at the end.
And it's why the Hawks are so tough. Everything has to break right on a given possession to earn a stop against them. Show too much on Kyle Korver curling off a pindown, and the big man setting the screen will slip it, and dart right to the basket. But don't show enough, and you put the onus on your guard to fight over the screen unscathed, and have the discipline to stop his momentum AND contest against the best shooter in basketball.
That's what the Wizards' frontcourt was up against tonight, and it looked like they had no idea what hit them in the first half. They constantly showed too much on ball handlers in the pick and roll, leaving just enough of an opening for Al Horford and Paul Milsap to exploit. Counting tonight, the Wizards have given up at least 56 points in the first half in five of the last six games, but unlike any of those previous games, they'd have an offense to fall back on.
And that's why John Wall's night was so impressive. It was him not allowing Atlanta's sixth ranked defense to set up by pushing the pace, even when there wasn't a discernible numbers advantage in his favor. It led to 12 fast break points, but more importantly, it kept the Hawks' defense at bay. Without setting up, they can't swarm ball handlers and overplay passing lanes, and it's why they kept them to two fast break points on their end.
But this wasn't one of those nights where the Wizards would claw their way back in it by racing up and down the floor. How could they against a team that shoots 48 percent from the floor?
This was about Wall orchestrating the half court offense about as well as he's ever had in that third quarter. He probed the defense until he got exactly the look he wanted, and when every outlet was shut off, he'd reset, break his defender down and get to his sweet spot:
It was another masterpiece from the All Star, all the more reason for Wittman to kick himself for taking him out to begin the fourth. Do I blame him? Of course not, especially not after seeing Wall limp around the floor after a grueling third quarter, and it's yet another indictment on their putrid bench. Once again, they got nothing out of it, and it begs the question of how long Wall can reasonably put up with it without killing himself. Reinforcements need to be on the way, and fast.