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What went wrong in the Wizards’ late collapse against the Thunder

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards lost to the Thunder 126-115 in overtime on Wednesday night, but the final score doesn’t really show how close the Wizards came to winning. Washington had a 7 point lead with 3:10 left in regulation before the Thunder came back to force overtime.

It’s the second time this season where the Wizards have lost a game where they had a 7 point lead with under 4 minutes left in regulation. The other game in October against Memphis, where the Wizards went into a prevent offense while Marc Gasol and Mike Conley caught fire for Memphis.

While the end result was the same, it’s important to note their most recent letdown followed a different script than their loss to the Grizzlies. Let’s go possession by possession through the final minutes of regulation and the start of overtime, where the Thunder went on a 21-6 run to win to steal a game that the Wizards had an 89.7 percent chance of winning with 3:10 left in the game, according to Inpredictable.

Thunder ball with 3:10 left, Wizards up 99-92

The Wizards let Russell Westbrook “walk the dog” up the floor, which allows him to start the possession with a full 24 second shot clock at half court. He wouldn’t need much of it, though. He ran a quick pick and pop that freed up Andre Roberson for a look from deep with 19 seconds left on the shot clock.

Washington really couldn’t have asked for a better situation here. They’ve got the team’s worst outside shooter firing away early in the shot clock. If it rims out, it’s a terrible play for the Thunder, but it goes in and suddenly it’s a four point game. Scott Brooks calls a time out to settle the team down for the final three minutes of regulation.

Wizards ball with 3:03 left, Wizards up 99-95

Coming out of the timeout, Wall brings the ball up court and uses a Kelly Oubre screen to set up a mismatch against Thunder rookie Semaj Christon. Once he gets the matchup, he takes it straight to the hole and feeds Otto Porter for an easy bucket in the paint. The Wizards are back up by 6.

Thunder ball with 2:45 left, Wizards up 101-95

This is where things started to go bad. Russell Westbrook uses a simple screen to get in the paint, from there, he kicks it out to Roberson in the corner. Roberson gets Oubre to bite on the pump fake, which gives him a free driving lane.

Confusion has now set in. Wall steps in to try to cut off Roberson, Morris has to step out to cover Victor Oladipo on the perimeter, while Porter tries to hold things down in the paint and Beal has to scramble out to cover Christon. Beal trips on the way out to cover Christon which leaves Jerami Grant open for a pass inside. When Grant catches the ball, the defense collapses on him, leaving Morris (the only big on the floor) to cover Oladipo AND Roberson above the arc. Because he’s stuck trying to guard both players in no man’s land, Grant is able to fire the ball right back to Oladipo for three.

Wizards ball with 2:26 left, Wizards up 101-98

After running a quick, efficient play on the previous possession, the Wizards go the other way and try to milk some clock before running a late ISO at the top of the key for Beal. He lost the ball as he drove, and Oladipo was able to turn that into a quick two points on the other end.

Wizards ball with 2:00 left, Wizards up 101-100

Rather than run the ball through Wall or Beal, the Wizards decide to exploit Markieff Morris’ mismatch against Jerami Grant. He does his thing inside and makes the tough shot in the paint to give Washington a little breathing room.

Thunder ball with 1:42 left, Wizards up 103-100

Kelly Oubre takes on Russell Westbrook as he brings the ball up court, and it does not go well. Morris just isn’t ready to pick up Westbrook and that leads to an easy layup for Westbrook.

Six seconds after the Wizards took a three point lead, they only had a one point lead.

Wizards ball with 1:36 left, Wizards up 103-102

Once again, Wall gets the matchup he wants with Christon, he gets around a Markieff Morris screen and takes it to the hole for an easy layup. No milking the clock here.

Thunder ball with 1:22 left, Wizards up 105-102

Westbrook attacks the rim much the same way he did the possession before, but this time, Westbrook loses his handle and the ball goes off Otto Porter before it goes out of bounds. When they inbound the ball again, Westbrook attacks again, but Wall is able to cut off his driving lane and force Westbrook into a tough shot which he misses.

Wizards ball with 1:04 left, Wizards up 105-102

With a three point lead, the Wizards decide to try and milk the clock again. Initially, it looks like they’re setting up Beal to go one-on-one with Westbrook, but with 8 seconds left on the shot clock, he kicks the ball out to Wall who takes it at Anthony Morrow and tries to knock down a jumper in the paint.

Wall misses the shot, but Porter is able to slap the ball back out to John Wall for a fresh shot clock with 41 seconds to go. With the ball, a three point lead, and a fresh shot clock, the Wizards actually have a higher probability of winning the game at this point than they did with 3:10 left, according to Inpredictable. The Wizards have a 92.9 percent chance of winning the game when Wall collects the rebound.

With a chance to put the game away, Wall feeds the ball inside to Markieff Morris, who had come through with a tough bucket a few possessions earlier. However this time around Grant keeps Morris from getting where he wants on the floor, and with the shot clock about to expire, Morris has to settle for a baseline fadeaway that rims out.

Thunder ball with 19 seconds left, Wizards up 105-102

Despite the Wizards best efforts to milk the clock, the Thunder are in a position where they have options. They can go for the quick two and extend the game or they can try to tie it right away. It’s still too early for the Wizards to try to foul to prevent a three, so they have to be smart about how to defend here.

Wall starts on Westbrook to start the possession but he switches with Beal after he inbounds the ball and sprints to the other side of the floor. It sets Westbrook up for an ISO against Beal in the closing seconds. It did not go well.

To be fair to Beal, that’s an outstanding individual play by Westbrook. There aren’t many players who can sprint back from the paint to behind the arc with the ball in their hands a nail a three on a consistent basis. Heck, Westbrook can’t even do it all that often. He’s only shooting 33.6 percent from deep this season. Of all the plays to be upset about, this is probably the one to be the least upset about.

Besides, it doesn’t escape the fact that the Wizards still had a chance to take the lead back with 8 seconds to go.

Wizards ball with 8 seconds to go, game tied 105-105

On Monday night, the Wizards had a chance to avoid overtime on an end-of-regulation possession against the Kings. The Wizards set up a pick-and-roll with Wall and Gortat where Wall settled for a fadeaway from the elbow that missed.

On Wednesday against the Thunder, they ran a similar play but with different personnel. Since the Wizards went small, Morris set the pick for Wall this time around. Wall was at least able to get to the paint this time around, but the Thunder kept him from getting to the rim and wound up forcing him into a tough pass to Morris that bounced off his hands. Thankfully, Porter made a brilliant read to put himself in the perfect position to catch the carom and get off a shot.

Washington inadvertently wound up with a decent look here, but it certainly wasn’t the way they drew it up and really not the way anyone should try to draw anything up.

Thunder ball to start overtime, game tied 105-105

After completing their monster comeback, the Thunder had all the momentum on their side, but that doesn’t excuse silly mistakes that make things worse. Jerami Grant earned a trip to the foul line on the first possession of overtime. He made the first and missed the second. Westbrook snagged the offensive board off the miss and scored, to put the Thunder up by 3.

What really stung on this play was how Westbrook got the rebound. He didn’t crash the lane from behind the arc to pull in the rebound, he was lined up down low like a traditional big and just wrestled it away from Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre:

If you needed any more evidence that the Thunder were going to win after their comeback to force overtime, that was it. Oklahoma City rattled off 5 more points on the next two possessions and had an 8 point lead just 72 seconds into overtime.


So that was rough, but there are a few silver linings. Most importantly, the Wizards did some nice things offensively in the closing minutes. They were far better than they were in their meltdown against Memphis on that end. If nothing else, it’s progress.

The real culprit in this meltdown was the team’s defense. The Roberson three and the Westbrook threes were certainly unlucky to some regard, but everything else in regulation and overtime was just horrendous and it continues a theme of the Wizards being unable to close games on a high note. They’re 25th in Defensive Rating in the fourth quarter, allowing teams to shoot 47.1 percent from the field and 38.0 percent beyond the arc. Until they can figure how to slow teams down in the final minutes it really doesn’t matter how well they execute their offense.