Well, you know the drill by now. Wizards come out, play well for much of the game and then fumble, bumble and stumble all over themselves down the stretch.
Tonight was no different. Washington had rallied, traded leads with the Thunder, and actually held a 90-89 advantage roughly 3-1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter.
But instead of building on that lead, the Wizards laid down and let the Thunder go on a 21-8 run to close out the game and win 110-98. That’s what experienced teams are supposed to do — execute with a sense of urgency down the stretch. Young, inexperienced teams are supposed to struggle to find a way to protect their lead.
But the young Thunder rolled, and the veteran Wizards squad left Flip Saunders very frustrated. He basically went an a tear in his post-game press conference tonight. And he can say it better than any paraphrasing and adding of commentary I can do, so here’s what he had to say:
“It’s more than [not being able to finish down the stretch]. This team needs a mindset change. This team for the last five years has been known as one of the worst defensive teams in the league and until we make a commitment – we couldn’t stop anybody out there.
“We could’ve taken five guys out of this room and they would’ve had a chance,” Saunders said. “That team is playing a lot better but that is not the Cleveland cavaliers or the Los Angeles Lakers or one of those teams yet. Until they score on you and it hurts, we’re kidding ourselves. We can say we’re two games out of the playoffs or whatever, and I’m hearing everything else. But I didn’t come here to make the playoffs, I came here to win a championship and we need a total mindset change about how we’re going to go about doing that. And until we have that change from everybody from staff to players, we’re going to have games like this where we hang around and hang around and then it comes time to make stops and we don’t have a chance.”
A reporter tried to ask another question, but Flip cut him off and kept rolling: “Whether it’s lineup changes, it’s all up in the air right now. I’m frustrated as anybody but I feel bad for the people who came to the game and had to watch that. We have a responsibility as professional athletes as entertainers to go out and perform at a high level, especially at home.
“Hell, the last home game against Philadelphia, we had to take the starting lineup out to get juiced up,” Saunders continued. “We’ll come back to practice in two days and spots will be open for whoever. And if guys don’t like it, that’s fine. Because I’m not going to sit here and look at that anymore. Through 30 game, you evaluate for 30 games and now the way it’s going it ain’t getting going.”
Saunders was asked about the zone defense the Wizards used, which was effective in getting them back into the game, but then was — as he described pregame — like swiss cheese, and set up OKC to get rolling again.
“Zone got us back in the game and we did well playing some zone, and then guys want to come out of the zone and play man-to-man, but they can’t guard anybody!” he fumed. “I could go out there on that floor and take anyone on our team one-on-one at  years old and drive around them.”
In closing, he repeated a warning that he had told his players: “We’ve got to wake up. Don’t ever think it can’t get any worse, because it can,” he said. “It can. We’ve got to have a sense of urgency.”
I asked Wizards players what it’s going to take to get that sense of urgency, and they too are at a loss for answers for the key to a turn-around.
Said Gilbert Arenas: “I guess drill-work. Beginning the season we couldn’t get our offense together and we were defending, now we’re scoring and not defending. We need to get an equal medium out there. Right now we stink. And we’re showing it. You can sit here and talk about it every day every game every loss, but until we turn it around, we stink. The last two years we’ve got a loser mentality. We’re finding ways to lose basketball games. From forcing shots to turnovers, if you can think of it, we’re doing it.”
Brendan Haywood said “Defensively it’s attitude. It’s taking pride. Sometimes we get mad at the wrong things. It’s one of those things where when we give up a dunk in the fourth quarter to a high-level player like Kevin Durant, everybody on the team is mad because he’s supposed to get fouled. That’s when we’ll grow as a team, when we take pride in getting stops, sealing off the paint, helping each other and playing as one; on the offensive and defensive end.”
Caron Butler said, “If I knew the answer, we’d be winning now.”
We’ll 2009 has come to an end for the Wizards, and it hasn’t been a good year. If you start in January and go until now, they are 23-69. This isn’t going to change overnight, but here’s to a better 2010 for the Wizards.