What shall I write about this morning? Bradley Beal on the fast track to becoming a superstar? Ernie Grunfeld lighting a fire in Jan Vesely when he chose not to pick up his rookie option? The Cavs seeming to have the Wizards number or another late game collapse by the Wizards. Last night was such a roller coaster of emotion and when the Wiz pulled out the victory, I finally settled on the idea of growth and maturity.
Certainly, the season has not started out the way the players, coaching staff or fans envisioned. The Wizards have played well but hadn’t figured out how to win close games. But after Wednesday night’s win in Cleveland – their second in a row – the Wiz are now 4-7. Of those seven losses, the Wizards had a legitimate shot at winning four of them. In the loss to Philly, the Wizards were down three with five minutes to go. This is usually when “playoff teams” turn it on and start to separate from inferior teams but the Wizards could never close the gap. Then there was the heart breaker in OKC. The Wizards actually dominated the Thunder for the games entirety and were up comfortably 92-82 with 3:26 left. Then Kevin Durant went all, well, Kevin Durant on them. The Wizards took them to overtime and hung around with a chance to win the game on a last second layup attempt by John Wall but….#SoWizards, right? Finally, there was that first game against the Cavs last Saturday where the Wizards led by 15 at one point but let the Cavs hang around and take the game into overtime. Kyrie Irving proved to be a bit too much to contain and the Wizards dropped another close game.
Those were three games that the Wizards could and should have won. A 7-4 record feels a lot better than 4-7 but as I stated earlier, these are the growing pains necessary for a team to transform from a young talented team into a legitimate playoff contender.
This team reminds me a lot of the Indiana Pacers from a season ago. You had a young team with a couple of players – namely Paul George and Roy Hibbert – who were poised to break out. Both teams were comprised of a nice mix of young players and veterans. And both teams had trouble closing games out. Last year, we saw the Pacers stumble out of the gate. About halfway through the season, it finally clicked for them as Paul George got his superstar card stamped and Roy Hibbert became a defensive stalwart. They went into the playoffs last year just trying to make some noise and ended up in the Eastern Conference Finals. This yea,r they have legitimate championship aspirations. I believe the Wizards are at that crucible. They are learning to avoid the panic that usually plagues the last few minutes of tight games. They know that they can play with any team in the league but they still are unsure if they can beat every team.
Over the last two games, the Wizards have been slowly figuring out how to keep it together even when the wheels are falling off. When the Timberwolves were in town, the Wizards got down early when Kevin Love went all Kevin Love on them scoring 16 points in the 1st quarter. Yet the guys kept their wits about them and slowly clawed their way back into the game. They took the lead early in the 4th and it until Kevin Martin hit a three to put the Wolves up one with a minute left in the game. Martell Webster hit a three to retake the lead and then the Wiz proceeded to hit all of their free throws the rest of they way.
Wednesday night was more of the same. After mollywhopping the Cavs for 3 1/2 quarters, the Wiz took their foot off the gas and allowed the Cavs back into game behind Kyrie Irving. Anderson Varejao hit a shot to cut the lead down to four with a minute and a half left in the game. The Wizards responded by going 8-for-8 from the charity stripe the rest of the way. I could sit here and harp on blowing the 27 point lead or them looking shaky down the stretch but I’ve become too accustomed to the Wizards losing these types of games. So I’ll take solace in the fact that they held it together when they were literally self destructing.
The were most telling moment from that Cavs game was the moment that occurred during a timeout with just over two minutes left. Bradley Beal was visibly shaken after Matthew Dellavadova gave him a heaping helping of defense for about five minutes. He put something on him so cold. After forcing Beal into a shot clock violation, the Cavs called a full timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the camera zooms in on Trevor Ariza, who dressed for the game but didn’t play, telling Beal “that motherf*cker can’t guard you and you know it.” Beal looked at him and nodded his head. A couple of possessions later he hits a big shot and then nails two crucial free throws down the stretch. It was a beautiful moment. The wily veteran offers words of encouragement to a young player who was in the midst of a panic and they both shared a woosah moment and held it together.
Wizards fans were in a panic when they were sitting at 2-7. Just imagine Trevor Ariza telling YOU that this team is f*cking better than that and you know it….woosssaaahhhh.