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The Wizards won another road game in the playoffs. A few thoughts from the Game 1 104-98 win in Atlanta.
1. 2nd half defense & cold Atl. shooting. After giving up 63 in the first half to the Hawks, the Wizards held Atlanta to 35 in the 2nd half on 13-52 shooting. The defense was really good but Atlanta missed some open shots including a couple of easy put-backs.
2. Final two offensive possessions. They weren't great possessions but at the end of each one, Wall made a winning play. Up 98-96 Wall drove and fed Porter for an easy layup and then up 100-96 he did the same thing with Gortat. Close-out plays by Wall. The possessions before those last two weren't great. They got lulled into clock-eating offense too early up 98-91and Wall had a bad turnover that led to a 3-point play on the other end. He was huge when it mattered though on those final two possessions.
3. Few turnovers. Amazing how much better the Wizards have been protecting the ball in the postseason compared to the regular season. Although Wall had a bad turnover up 98-91 on a bad possession, they committed just 6 for the game. Three of those were early when it seemed they were just trying to clear a week's worth of rust off. They had averaged 17 per game in the regular season against the Hawks.
4. Key 3's and Free Throws. They made 19 of 22 from the line and several key threes, especially in the first half. It really felt like Atlanta had a chance to open up some bigger leads in the first half but a pair of made free throws here and there and some huge 3-pointers by Gooden, Pierce, and others stemmed the tide. Atlanta was super sharp early shooting 63% with 11 assists in a 37-point first quarter. It was the Wizards' three-pt shooting and their ability to get to the line that kept the game well within reach.
5. Overcame injuries/bad calls. Wall hurt his arm and Beal his ankle but both played. Wall's was obviously not as serious. Hopefully Beal can play Tuesday night. Two charges were called blocks in the 4th. Seraphin and Pierce drew obvious charges that were called blocks. Both were awful calls.
6. Strange but true. It's stange but for as great a shooter as Beal is, he's had 1-2 bad air balls per game in the playoffs. I mean 3-foot short air balls....not even close. With that said, a spectacular game all around before he got hurt.
7. Road warriors. That's 4 straight series winning the first game on the road. No team in NBA history has ever done it. Wittman is now 8-1 on the road in two years.
8. Nene. Worst game of the playoffs. He just doesn't look right. He was a zero threat offensively today. The plantar fasciitis seems to be a problem.
9. Sessions with good minutes again. He played well in his normal spot in the rotation and then played well when Beal went out with the ankle.
10. Otto Porter....officially good. Wow is he a changed player. His defense, rebounding, and shooting have been impactful. His confidence is sky high.
For a 2nd straight series, my prediction is the Wizards in 6. I'm not overly confident about this prediction despite the impressive sweep of Toronto. Atlanta struggled a bit against Brooklyn but may have gotten some of their mojo back in a Game 6 series-clinching rout in Brooklyn. Here's a quick list of must-haves if the Wizards are to pull off the upset. And yes, it would be an upset. The Hawks are a 2:1 favorite.
1. Wall continues to play fast. He was so good against Toronto and the pace he set meant everything. Atlanta will embrace an up-tempo pace and yes, it's a risk taking quick shots because the Hawks will turn misses into open 3's on the other end. Still, it's the only way the Wizards play well offensively. I'm not in the camp of slowing it down and pounding the Hawks inside.
2. Limit turnovers. The Wizards averaged 17 turnovers a game in their 4 regular season matchups with the Hawks. Too many turnovers in this series means blowout losses for Washington. They must protect the ball and end up with at least as many, if not more shot attempts per game than Atlanta. Turnovers against the Hawks turn into Atlanta points and lots of em.
3. Rebounding. The Wizards dominated the Raptors on the glass and could do the same against Atlanta. 50-50 long rebound balls will be huge. If the Hawks win that battle, too many open 3's follow.
4. Wizards' defense. How Wittman decides to guard Atlanta will be a major key to who wins this series. The Hawks can put five players on the floor that can stretch a defense. And when they sub with Antic or Scott it doesn't change. Pierce at the 4 may come into play again in this series. Keep one thing in mind. Atlanta is a much better passing team than Toronto. Staying home on shooters and allowing Teague/Schroeder to do whatever they want may be the way to go. Teague's pick and roll/pick and pop with any of the Hawks bigs (Horford, Millsap, Antic, etc) must be played with one goal in mind. Let Teague penetrate and shoot all he wants but don't let screeners roll uncontested for open layups/dunks and don't leave screeners with uncontested pick & pop shots. This is easier said than done.
5. Hawks' shooting percentage. Bottom line, if Atlanta shoots it well, the Wizards are in trouble. While I'm in favor of the Wizards playing up-tempo, it's still hard to match the Hawks firepower in that type of game. Korver, Millsap, Carroll....they need to miss a considerable more than they make.
First things first. I'm in the camp of giving new GM Scot McCloughan every benefit of the doubt. It would be unfair to be one of the guys who have begged for a legit top-tier talent evaluator and then be overly critical of that guy's first-ever draft pick for the organization.
Secondly, there's no reason to be overly critical of McCloughan's selection of Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff with the 5th pick in the first round. He's a very good player who fills a major need.
I was surprised however that Scherff was the pick at #5. I wouldn't have been surprised if the Skins had traded down and taken Scherff a few picks later but with Leonard Williams still on the board, I thought they would take him or trade the pick to someone who wanted him.
Williams has been the consensus #1 player on most boards for months now. Skins GM Scot McCloughan promised that he would take the best player available on his board. So the surprise is that Scherff was rated higher on McCloughan's board then Williams.
A smaller surprise was that the Skins made their pick so quickly instead of waiting as long as they could for a potential killer offer. When Oakland picked Amari Cooper and the Skins went on the clock, NFL Network's Albert Breer tweeted "Raiders take Cooper, dream scenario for Skins" implying that the Skins' trade-down hope was now very much in play. They didn't wait and made their pick quickly with still several minutes left on the clock.
After the selection of Scherff, Breer reported that McCloughan's top 3 players in this draft were Fowler Jr., Cooper, and Scherff. Clearly the boards for the Jags (who took Fowler Jr.) and Raiders (who took Cooper) were similar with respect to Williams.
My guess is that Fowler Jr. being available at #5 would've prompted an offer from Atlanta that would've resulted in the Skins getting Scherff at #8 while also picking up an extra 2nd or 3rd-round pick in the process. But that didn't play out.
If you believe Breer, McCloughan stuck to his board and took Scherff. What would've been very interesting is if the Raiders had taken Williams instead of Cooper. According to Breer, McCloughan would've then taken Cooper.
Bottom line, McCloughan got a guy he valued very high and got him in a value spot. Scherff was the 3rd-best player on his board and he got him at 5. And he filled a major need. Not bad.
With the 2015 NFL Draft hours away and the Redskins holding a pick in every round including the #5 selection overall, I have a few hopes. Here they are.
1. I hope Scot McCloughan listens to himself and his scouts only. Influence from anyone that doesn't have winning "on the field" as the only priority on draft weekend is a problem.
2. I hope that they don't trade down. At #5 overall, the Skins will have an elite prospect to choose from. Either Cooper, Williams, or Fowler Jr. should be available when they go on the clock. A trade down probably gets them a prospect that is very good but not as elite as one of the three above.
3. I really hope McCloughan does what he said he'd do and takes the best available player regardless of position. There isn't enough greatness on this team at any position to pass on potential greatness. I think Leonard Williams and Amari Cooper are the two best players on the board. Williams is a million times better Day 1 than Hatcher, Paia, or Rickey Jean-Francois. He would be the most impactful defensive front-7 player they've had on their roster in years. Cooper is Julio Jones....gamechanger. Sure you have D. Jackson but for how long? Garcon is probably out of here by 2016. Don't pass on great for good.
4. I hope they don't take Clemson LB Vic Beasley at #5. Beasley has been rumored to go to the Skins in their #5 spot. He's an athletic pass rusher for sure but his tape reflects a guy that isn't interested as much in stopping the run. The 5th overall selection in the draft shouldn't be a 3rd-down specialist. I'd have less of an issue if they traded down and picked Beasley in the teens but if they take him, that means they passed on a much better prospect at #5 (Williams, Cooper, Fowler Jr.). BTW, Shane Ray is easily the 2nd-best 3-4 OLB in my view but the weed bust sends him plummeting down the board.
5. I hope they get OL help. While it's not on my top 2 needs list for this team (pass rusher and safety are 1 & 2), it would be 3rd on the list. If they were to trade down and get a player like Iowa's Brandon Scherff, it would lessen the blow of not getting an elite player like Cooper, Williams, or Fowler Jr. I doubt seriously that Scherff would be there unless they traded down no lower than 8th (Atlanta's pick) because the Giants at #9 would be a likely spot for Scherff. While right tackle is important, the Skins could use some help at guard as well.
6. I hope they draft a RB. I love Alfred Morris but I get the sense that they want more then just an early-down runner. This draft is loaded with running backs of all shapes, sizes, and specialties. I think Gurley and Gordon are stars but they'll be long gone by the 2nd round. From rounds 2-4, here are a few that I wouldn't mind seeing in Burgundy and Gold next year: Ameer Abdullah/Nebraska; Jeremy Langford/Mich State; Duke Johnson/Miami; Tevin Coleman/Indiana; David Cobb/Minnesota; David Johnson/Northern Iowa. I really like Langford in particular. He's big (6-0/210), fast (4.4), productive and versatile. When I watched Michigan State this year, he just looked like an NFL back.
7. I hope they don't reach for a safety or CB. The safeties in this draft are all flawed and the only great corner has baggage. U of Washington CB Marcus Peters would have been a top-10 pick if he hadn't got kicked off the team. Corners like Waynes (Mich St) and Johnson (Wake Forest) can cover but can't get off blocks in the run game while guys like Senquez Golson (Ole Miss) can do both but he's so small at (5-9 or less).
8. I hope they draft Miami ILB Denzel Perryman. He may be the most physical big-hitting defensive player in the draft. He's smaller and slower which is the only reason he'll still be there in the 2nd round. He's football smart, a ferocious competitor, and was highly productive. He would be the perfect replacment for Perry Riley and the combo of Perryman and Keenan Robinson inside would be great for years to come.
9. I hope they get a kick/punt returner. Two names for you....Tyler Lockett/Kansas State and Steph Diggs/Maryland. Most around here know Diggs and he's going to be an instant impact player on special teams if he can stay healthy but Lockett was one of my favorite players to watch the last few years. Lockett is a legit #2 WR and on many teams a #1 and will help immediately as a returner. In a draft filled with wide receivers, Lockett is underrated. He may not be that big (5-10/180) but he's got top-end speed, great hands, elite ball skills, and was clutch for an always-overachieving Kansas State program.
10. I hope that the QB they take is either Brett Hundley or Sean Mannion. A bit presumptuous that they will take a QB but my gut says they will at some point in this draft. If they do, Hundley and Mannion are my next-best after Mariota/Winston. Mannion is pro-ready at 6-6/230. He played for Mike Riley's pro-style system at Oregon State. He can really throw it. I'm surprised that Hundley isn't the obvious choice as the 3rd-best QB in this draft. He's got very good size (6-3), a strong arm, good speed and great feel/vision in the pocket and as a runner. He's going to start in the league within 3 years.
A few quick thoughts on the Wizards close-out 125-94 win over Toronto.
1. Sizzling shooting. Did they miss? What an incredible shooting display. 55% from the floor and a ridiculous 15-26 from the 3-point line even though they missed their last 3. Pierce went an incredible 14-24 from behind the arc in the series. Gooden went 7-14 on 3's. Ramon Sessions for pete's sake was 5-9 in the series on 3-pointers. Gortat went 8-9 tonight....29-39 from the floor for the series....74.3%.
2. John Wall's team. If you're nothing more than a box score reader, you'd have no concept of how good John Wall was tonight. His 14 points/10 assists don't come anywhere near telling the tale of how he set the tempo from the start. He had just 5 shot attempts but was the best player on the floor. Pierce, Beal, Gortat, and Gooden were all very good....Wall was the series MVP.
3. Wittman shortened bench again. Wittman went with an 8-man rotation for the 2nd straight game until the lead was insurmountable. Gooden, Porter, and Sessions were used with no Seraphin in the meaningful portion of the game.
4. Wittman was the superior coach. Randy Wittman had a defensive plan from the beginning of this series that worked throughout including tonight. His decision to go small in key spots most notably in Game 1 was huge. His team was totally energized for each game. He added a new wrinkle tonight by trapping the ball out of timeouts when Toronto had the ball. It caused two turnovers tonight.
5. Ernie Grunfeld deserves some credit. Getting Pierce was a perfect post-season answer to losing Ariza. The addition of Humphries paid off through mid-season and the trade deadline acquistion of Ramon Sessions has really paid off. Sessions has defended well and is shooting it well too.
11 thoughts from the Wizards Game 3 106-99 win over Toronto.
1. Strange game. After a red-hot flawless offensive start by both teams in the first quarter, the game turned into an ugly-at-times grind the rest of the way until a flurry of big shots by Porter & Pierce down the stretch.
2. Pierce closes it out. Pierce's 2nd quarter in Game 1 and his 4th quarter tonight are the two most memorable moments of this series. His 11 pts tonight in the final quarter included 3 threes, the last of which was a true Buckhantz dagger to make it 105-99. No matter how discombobulated he can appear to be at times (and he was tonight early), he's the ultimate killer-closer with the game on the line.
3. Otto Porter is really feeling it. Otto Porter gained a level of confidence in Game 3 that carried over into tonight. He's a different guy the last two games. His defense on DeRozan was very good. I doubt Wittman will do it but he may want to think about starting Porter in Game 4 to prevent another quick scoring start for DeRozan. His two threes in the 4th quarter were massive especially the three after Ross had tied the game at 88-88 with a 3-pointer. If you watched him all season long, the fact that he took those threes let alone made them is major progress. I stand by what I've said on the show about him. He does a lot of things well, nothing great. With that said, his defense in particular has been great in this series. He's been a major plus and he's a big reason they're up 3-zip.
4. Gooden's lift. Down 9 late in the 1st quarter, Drew Gooden entered the game and made three 3-pointers over a 5-minute stretch lasting into the 2nd quarter and the Wizards took a 4-point lead. He finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, and several hustle plays that can't be measured statistically. He did all of that in just 18 minutes.
5. Rough in 3 areas. First, the pace wasn't good for most of the 3rd quarter and some of the 4th. The Wizards have to stay up-tempo or they will struggle offensively. Second, 17 turnovers is too many especially when many of them are a result of bad decisions and a casual approach. Third, Toronto's full-court pressure bothered the Wizards at the end of the game. Surprised they didn't screen a little more to get somebody open or use Gortat as an inbounds pass outlet.
6. Wall to Gortat. 18 of Marcin Gortat's 24 points were assisted by Wall. I thought Gortat was almost too unselfish at times in the 4th quarter. He could've had another 6-8 pts if he didn't give up the ball.
7. How many of you knew....that if you get fouled before the shot clock expires but score as part of a continuation play after the shot clock expires, that the basket counts? I didn't know that. When Gortat got fouled by DeRozan before the shot clock expired, I just figured the made shot, which clearly came after the clock expired, wouldn't count and the Wizards would keep the ball with a reset shot clock.
8. DeRozan's night. He started 8 for 10 with 20 in the first quarter....he went 3 for 19 the rest of the way. Porter gets most of the credit for slowing him down.
9. Wall's night. Not as good as Game 2 but still exceptional. He went for 19 points and 15 assists and consistently set his teammates up for easy shot attempts. Unlike Game 2 though, he didn't shoot it as well from the perimeter and his five turnovers were more of the unforced variety. Still, an elite point guard playoff performance.
10. Block party. The Wizards blocked 13 shots tonight. Gortat had 4, Gooden and Beal 3 each. There’s been a ton of talk over this past season about the lack of athletic “bigs” on the roster and that’s true to a certain extent. However, the Wizards do have legit rim protectors in Nene, Gortat, and yes, Gooden who is a clever defender in the paint.
11. The series is over. No team has ever come back from 3-zip down. The Wizards will close it out with a sweep on Sunday.
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