The Wizards have been respectable defensively in late-game situations this season. In clutch situations, where there is less than five minutes to go in a game and neither team is leading by more than five points, the Wizards have the 14th-best defensive rating. They're not necessarily winning games with their late-game defense, but usually they're not blowing games with how they defend either.
Unfortunately, that can't be said for how the Wizards performed in the closing minutes of Tuesday's 111-108 win in New York. Washington was up by 10 with 1:51 left, but allowed the Knicks to whittle it down to the point where they would have gone to overtime if Langston Galloway had simply made this uncontested shot.
Plenty went wrong in the final two minutes, but for now, let's just focus on what went wrong on the final possession. The Knicks were down three and they were out of timeouts. The Wizards had fouled to prevent a three on the previous possession when faced with the same scenario, but that didn't go to plan the second time.
Otto Porter lost track of Jose Calderon after Wall made his second free throw, which allowed Kristaps Porzingis to make an easy pass in to Calderon, who has shot 87.5 percent from the free throw line in his career.
By the time Porter realized he had lost track of his man, Calderon already had the ball and was heading up court with a full head of steam. Now Porter has to chase down a moving target without letting him blow by.
Porter's blunder allowed the Knicks to get further up court than the Wizards intended here, but he's putting himself in position to fix his mistake. At worst, Calderon makes both free throws and the Wizards just have to make sure they don't botch the inbounds pass. Even if they miss a free throw, the Knicks would have had less than three seconds to go the full length of the court to score.
Unfortunately, as he starts closing on Calderon, Wall makes an even bigger mistake when he breaks away from his man and tries to apply the foul himself. As he does this, he allows Langston Galloway to spring free for an open look, and Galloway could not have been more excited about it. Look at him trying to signal how open he is:
Wall's decision to try to foul Calderon here was a terrible risk assessment. Even if Porter had completely zoned out and wasn't going to foul, the best look the Knicks have at that point is Calderon jacking up a contested, pull-up three in Porter's face. By leaving his man, he gives the Knicks a chance at an uncontested shot from a spot where Galloway has been respectable this season:
After the game, Wall was quick to point out his mistake in the post-game interview with Chris Miller of CSN Mid-Atlantic:
I gotta stay with him on that one, but I tried to go up there and foul because Otto was supposed to foul. That was my fault. Both of our faults. But I can't leave a guy like that.
It was Otto for not knowing the foul and also me for leaving the man wide open. We went for steals sometimes when we shouldn't have. At times we were trying to go give up threes but twos, but we were giving up twos in like two seconds so it wasn't enough time running off the clock.
It's nice to see that the Wizards were quick to diagnose what went wrong on the final play, it's worrisome that stuff like this keeps happening. Teams have been able to exploit their bad gambles, defensive lapses, and inability to trust one another all season long. They may seem like little things in the day-to-day grind, but they have a way of becoming glaring issues on the team's most important possessions. Washington was lucky this time, but that's been the exception, rather than the norm this season.