There's not any one play that led to Washington dropping a critical Game 5 on Wednesday. For every misstep Nene took in that fourth quarter — be it him not boxing out Horford or missing a baby hook from three feet that would've tied the game with 90 seconds to go — there's a play earlier that could be deemed just as important.
There was John Wall's inability to handle Atlanta's full court press, which led to an errant pass over Bradley Beal's head, with 2:42 to go. There's Beal, failing to capitalize on Wall's chase-down block on Schroder with under four minutes by misfiring on an in-rhythm three in transition, which would've surely taken the wind out of Atlanta's sails as they had just begun to make their comeback. And there's Paul Pierce, who thought he had DeMarre Carroll beat, only to stop on a dime right into the heart of the defense. Just as he looked to kick it out for a reset, he gets stripped, which leads to an easy 2-on-1 fast break that finally got Atlanta the lead.
This isn't meant to absolve Nene, but rather to point out just how awful Washington's offense looked in that final frame. Let's dive in further.
We pick this up at the midway point of the fourth quarter. The Hawks offense has just ground to a halt with Dennis Schroder and Jeff Teague at the helm, having gone without a field goal for the first six minutes. The Wizards, meanwhile, built up a sizable lead thanks to one key adjustment by Randy Wittman. He abandoned his usual big lineup to start the quarter by benching Drew Gooden and playing Pierce at the 4, which largely kept the offense afloat.
Possession 1: 5:32 remaining, Wizards up 73-66.
Mike Budenholzer only needed to make one adjustment coming out of the timeout that ultimately tilted the game in his favor. He stuck his best perimeter defender, DeMarre Caroll, on Wall, and forced him to use the full eight seconds to get the ball up court. And once he gets it over the timeline, he still has to wait for Gortat to set up from the high post, which is made even harder with Horford literally hugging him. That's a full 13 seconds shaved off the clock before Wall goes to free up Beal with the pindown screen.
And here's why Teague didn't close this game out. The Hawks wanted to accomplish one thing defensively, and that's to make Washington work on every possession, which tailors to Schroder's ball denial defense. They overplayed everything, fought over every screen, and made Washington think twice before making a pass.
Possession 2: 4:58 remaining, Wizards up 73-69
The Hawks raced down the floor, freed up Korver on a brush screen by Carroll, which gave him enough space to bottom a 27-footer. Boom, all momentum lost and the lead quickly gone down to four.
But the Hawks don't let up. They continued to press Wall, only this time, he doesn't run a play, instead he takes it himself and fires an ill-advised jumper with the lengthier Carroll right on his tail. What's worse is that no one has the presence of mind to help John out in the backcourt. Not only is he the inbounder on this play, but he throws it to Gortat who has to come into the backcourt to receive the pass. But instead of reading the situation; knowing a simple screen is all it takes to get Carroll off his point guard, Gortat strolls up court as if nothing is wrong.
All of that leads to yet another possession where precious time is wasted off the shot clock and a guard taking a rushed shot.
Possession 3: 4:21 remaining, Wizards up 73-72.
Hawks again answer with a three -- this time Horford in the corner -- and Wittman calls timeout to set up this:
Wittman has fooled plenty of teams with this. It looks like Beal is going to rub off the Pierce down-screen, but he fakes it -- and maybe pushes off a bit -- and Wall lobs it up to him over the top. But notice how Millsap is defending the initial set up. He's not positioning himself on Pierce's hip, but instead sags off it where he could conceivably show on Beal's curl or cut-off the backdoor pass.
Following it, Washington sets up their baseline out of bounds play for Beal. Again, Carroll's length comes into play as he helps off Wall and eventually gets the block.
Possession 4 & 5:
I decided to lump these two together. Wall decides to walk the ball up the floor on two consecutive possessions, one of which is coming out of a timeout. The coaching staff still hasn't made the adjustment to speed things up by bringing a screener into the backcourt, which makes it seem like they're playing with no sense of urgency. It should not take this long to figure out a one-man press.
The Hawks can't possibly sustain this for a full game, but they have it in their back pocket now. Washington finally buckled down late and got the ball moving, especially on the first Pierce three-pointer that cut the deficit to two, and the Gortat hook shot to tie it, but this was largely a game they let slip away. There's no excuse losing to a team that committed 25 turnovers on the night and went scoreless for the first six minutes of the fourth.
The Nene miscues will unfortunately be the story of this one, but it shouldn't. Washington's fourth quarter offense was a mess that needs to be cleaned up before Game 6 on Friday.