The Washington Wizards were back on the practice court today, after seeing their comeback bid against the Boston Celtics fall short in the form of a 104-102 defeat.
A tough loss like that is tough to swallow, but rather than wallow — wow, I could be a poet, haha didn’t even realize the rhyme it until I just banged it out. Sorry, where were we? — they are choosing to take the positives from the game and build off of them.
The positives include an improved start, a persistence and refusal to fold after a terrible second quarter, and the intensity with which they played in the second half when they came back from 14 down to tie the game four times in the third and fourth quarters and lead briefly before falling by two points.
“We played one of the best teams in the league if not the best team so far,” Caron Butler said. “It was a game to let you know how good we’re capable of being. It was also a game to show us how hard we have to work and how good we have to play just to be a special team in this league.”
Flip Saunders agreed.
“As I told our guys, we just have to play with the same intensity and the same consistency that we had for the second half of last night,” Saunders said. “We had a team like Boston and how they’ve been playing and shoot 49 percent from the field, we did some very positive things. We just had that bad second quarter. But we’ve got to build off of what we did yesterday.
“Four weeks ago when we had bad starts its almost like at times we said ‘the heck with it.’ We didn’t seem to have the fortitude to win it,” the coach continued. “But what you do, you put the ball in the hands of your best players and you hope that they’re going to make plays. How many times is Gil going to miss two free throws down two? Not very often.”
Saunders said he believed part of the reason for Arenas’ missed free throws in the clutch are the guard still getting re-acclimated to playing and in pressure situations, and also as a byproduct of fatigue that came with having to guard Rajon Rondo.
“He was really sore today,” Saunders said. “He played hard, played a lot of minutes, he was playing against Rondo, who is another high energy player. So it’s just a matter of that whole process.”
The Wizards’ process continues tomorrow night against Indiana at Verizon Center, where Washington will play before heading out west for a four-game road trip. The Wizards will play seven of their next nine games on the road, so the theme for tomorrow night is executing effectively and having something positive with which to kick off a difficult stretch.
Saunders talked a bit more about trying to get Caron Butler going consistently and admitted that the small forward is still trying to find his way in his offense. Butler is different from the small forwards that Saudners has had in his previous stops (Tayshaun Prince in Detroit, who is more of a defensive-oriented/jack-of-all-trade/fill-the-gaps player, and Wally Szczerbiak in Minnesota who was a catch-and-shoot player, who as Saunders pointed out averaged 18.7 points during the 2001-02 season and also made the All-Star game that season under him). Butler is neither of those but Saunders believes Butler — like Prince and Szczerbiak — can succeed in his system, but that he has to do a better job of setting the two-time All-Star up.
“He’s different than them, but you have different guys and they’re all going to get the ball in their spots,” Saunders said. “But what’s happening is other people haven’t been making shots, and then you have like last night they loaded up on [Butler]. And they had Garnett at the basket, and people on him and there wasn’t really anywhere to go for him.
“I probably have to get my right arm worked on from waving the guys up the court. But when we get more in the open floor, I think Caron will get more opportunities,” Saunders added. “I’m as discouraged as he is that I’m not getting him quality opportunities. We just have to keep on working, and he’s going to through an adjustment period a little bit, but I think as a team, we’re getting better.”
Butler, who has gone from averaging 20.8 points a game to just more than 16 this season and is shooting 40 percent from the field, said he’s not concerned with his decreased offensive production. As Saunders pointed out, his rebounding has increased this season, and last night he limited Paul Pierce to 12 points while also pulling down eight boards.
“I’m not going to force anything,” Butler said today. “Before, for the last three years, you have the ball 80 percent of the time in the offense. Now the offense has changed and you’re now the third option. You’ve got to get out there and make hustle plays and capitalize on the opportunities you’re given: catch and shoot, make open shots.
“But I’m going to continue to hump after it, try to make things happen and play off my teammates,” Butler continued. “I’m not going to force anything. I know it will come. I’ve been in this league a long time and I know it’s a turning point that every player hits their stride. Once I put a nice little stretch together, I know it’s no looking back from there. It’s going to come and we’re going to win games and we’ll get back to where we need to be.”