For the second time this season, the Wizards lost a game in the final seconds because of a defensive miscue in the closing seconds that led to a lightly contested layup from the opposing team.
Back in January, Russell Westbrook beat the Wizards in overtime after Bradley Beal overplayed Westbrook on the inbounds pass, which gave Russell Westbrook a clear path to the basket for the easy finish. Here's a look at the play for those who have tried to wipe the play from their memory:
Wednesday night, George Hill helped the Pacers cap off a 10 point fourth quarter comeback by driving past Martell Webster and Nene in the closing seconds to get to the hoop:
The lasting image from both shots is Marcin Gortat, the team's best rim protector, standing on the sideline helplessly as Westbrook and Hill attack the paint without obstruction:
Photo credits: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Here's what Wittman had to say about his decision to keep Gortat on the bench for the final possession:
"They were small and we wanted to trap. Gortat wouldn't have been able to protect the rim. They had four three-point shooters and [David] West in so we wanted our most agile guy in Nene to be able to go trap the ball. You can stick him under the rim and you're going to give up a three."
And you know what? That makes total sense. Sure, the trap itself was a disaster, but considering the Pacers, like the Thunder, were going with only one big, having Nene and Gortat out there together would have been a disaster and if you had to choose between the two, Nene's versatility is more still useful in a final possession situation, trap or no trap.
The real issue with both possessions was how Randy Wittman chose to use John Wall. In both plays, Wittman chose to have Wall cover someone off the ball (Dion Waiters vs. the Thunder, C.J. Watson vs. the Pacers), rather than defend Hill or Westbrook. This, despite the fact that John Wall is the best fit from an athletic standpoint to keep up with both players, and he rates as the best defender at the point guard position, according to ESPN's Real Plus/Minus.
In both situations, Wall was playing with five fouls, so you have to assume Wittman moved him off the ball to keep him from fouling out. But there's some really messed up logic in that decision. For starters, referees almost always swallow their whistles in late game situations, so the risk of Wall fouling out is extremely low. Secondly, even if Wall does foul out, his absence doesn't hurt the team nearly as much as the two free throws he just gave the other team to seal the game. Leaving Wall to cover a standstill shooter in the closing seconds is a self-defeating strategy.
For the second time this season, we've seen Randy Wittman make the classic mistake of overcoaching in the final seconds. Rather than let his best defender try to extend the game by forcing a stop, he left him in the corner on a lesser player to save him for an extra period that's never going to come.
UPDATE: Good news, Randy Wittman gets off the hook on making the decision to put Wall on Watson:
Still, this is where the coach should step in and say "No, we need you to guard Hill, because if you foul out, we're not going to miss you for an overtime that isn't happening." Enabling someone else to make a bad decision is just as bad as making the decision yourself.