It can be frustrating rooting for the Washington Wizards sometimes. One minute you’re thinking about a potential Eastern Conference Finals experience against LeBron James, the next minute you’re stressing about the team giving away games to inferior teams with their play in the fourth quarter. The Wizards’ last two games against the Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks are the latest examples of the late-game struggles they haven’t been able to shake this season.
While the team escaped with 102-100 victory over the Grizzlies on Friday night, behind a combined 59 point performance from Wall and Beal, the team only shot 2-of-17 from the field and only scored 15 points in the fourth quarter. Throughout the first three-quarters of the game, Wall put together arguably his strongest showing of the season. He didn’t settle for low-percentage jump shots, and he found the perfect balance between attacking and getting his teammates involved. Then in the fourth, he reverted to his old habits and settled for jumpers. Beal also got caught up in hero ball and that allowed Memphis to make their run. Thankfully, the Wizards were able to get enough stops on defense and converted on crucial free throws to bail them out.
“To win on the road shooting 39 percent means we played the defense that it takes to win on the road,” Coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s game. “It wasn’t a pretty game. It was a lot of struggle offensively in that fourth quarter but I thought we played with a lot of toughness and we got stops when we needed.”
Against a stronger Bucks team, those struggles were too much to overcome. Wall chimed in 16 points and 16 assists and Beal chipped in 20 points but both struggled with their shot throughout the game as they combined to shoot 12-of-38 from the floor. The Wizards led most of the game despite their struggles, but their issues were amplified in the fourth quarter. Wall scored 2 points but went 0-for-5 from the field, Beal was 1-for-7, 4 points, Everyone else was 4-for-7 for 12 points.
“You understand that Wall and Beal are going to be the focal point, and I thought that we were guarding those two. It wasn’t just one-on-one. It was team defense,” Bucks Coach Jason Kidd said. “Everybody helped each other and tried to make it as tough as possible.”
If the Wizards want to improve their late fourth-quarter play, then the hero ball needs to stop. We all know that Wall and Beal are the team’s best players, so the ball is in their hands during the crucial moments of the game, but they don’t realize how the hero ball play hurts the offense. They are a combined 1-for-20 from the field in the fourth quarter of the last two games.
Beal has taken the 11th-most shots in the fourth quarter this season. All ten players ahead of him are shooting at least 41 percent in those situations, and eight are shooting over 45 percent. Beal is only shooting 35 percent.
Although Wall missed 11 games this season due to knee issues, he’s still managed to take 90 fourth quarter shots and make just 32 percent of them (29-of-90). Of the 123 players who have taken at least 75 shots in the fourth quarter this season, the only two players who have worse shooting percentages than John Wall are Marcus Smart (30 percent) and Fred VanVleet (32 percent).
To be fair to Wall and Beal, fatigue could have something to do with the misses. With Beal playing a career-high 35.6 minutes per game and Wall playing 33.7 minutes per game despite injury problems, they do seem winded at times late in games. Some of their struggles can also be attributed to missing Otto Porter in each of the past two fourth quarters due to a hip strain he suffered during Friday’s game against the Grizzlies. Still, as has been noted before, he’s usually more of an afterthought in the team’s late-game offense.
If anything, the Wizards’ recent struggles in the clutch are proof that Wall and Beal can’t do it alone. They need to get better at finding ways to spread the ball around and keep the game from becoming a slog in the closing minutes, but they also need support from the rest of the team to put them in a better position to excel.