Flip Saunders has tried for the most part this season to draw some positives out of everything. But not tonight. The coach came out of the locker room for his post-game presser and said point blank that the Wizards regressing rather improving.
“Where we’re at as a team, we have not evolved to be a team and grasp everything,” Saunders said. “We came out of training camp and thought we’d be a poor rebounding team so we worked extremely hard and have become a pretty good rebounding team. We worked on defense so much early and then our offense was struggling so the last few days we put an emphasis on offense and it’s like we forgot all our defensive concepts.”
This is a veteran team so they shouldn’t forget everything they’ve learned just because the last two days they worked on offense instead of defense, right?
“You’d hope so. But they haven’t shown the ability to carry over. That’s what’s most disappointing tonight,” the coach said, sounding eerily similar to Antawn Jamison last season talking about his young teammates who couldn’t seem to learn.
But there were no young players to blame tonight. Those young culprits from last season combined for 18 minutes (15 from Andray Blatche, 1 minute from Nick Young, 1 from Dom McGuire, and 1 from JaVale McGee).
Meanwhile, the veterans — Jamison, Butler, Haywood, Miller and Arenas — all played at least 35 minutes a game and were on the floor for the bulk of the damage, which included 28 fastbreak points by the Thunder, a 53% field goal performance, .524 clip from 3-point range and 28-for-33 showing from the foul line.
Normally, 24 points from Butler, 23 from Arenas and 22 from Jamison, along with a 14-point, 16-rebound performance from Haywood would be enough to win. Heck, the Wizards scored 108 points against Cleveland and won by 17. But that’s the problem. The Wizards thought they could engage the Thunder in a Wild, Wild West Shootout, and instead got run.
“The most disappointing thing about tonight is they scored and we come to the bench worrying about our offense. That isn’t going to make it,” Saunders said.
After the game, the players realized their faults.
Said Haywood: “We dug too big a hole, we didn’t value the ball and defense was awful from the tip to the final horn. We gave up over 30 every quarter, and that won’t cut it. Not on the road. From the beginning of the game, to the end of the game, we continually gave up penetration. And I’m not talking about one guy, I’m talking about everybody. We just didn’t do it. I could see if we were giving up 3’s. We were giving up layups and open J’s.”
Said Arenas: “We let them kept getting middle. Our defensive philosophy is don’t let a team get middle because once they get middle, they put pressure on the bigs, and then the guards have to suck in, and then you have wide-open 3-pointers, so mentally we just shut down today and they just took advantage of it.”
OKC is a young team, but they played like the experienced bunch. And tip your hat to coach Scott Brooks. Whenever the Wizards would cut the score to within striking distance, he’d call timeout and his guys would come out and execute. And it wasn’t just one play, they came out and reeled off scoring runs. That’s a mark of a coach who is getting through to his players.
“Every time they came out of a timeout, they went on a 6-0 run. They just scored. They came out of the timeup only up one and they went up,” Arenas said.
Ultimately, the Wizards let the game get too far out of hand, had to battle back, ran out of gas, had to battle back again and eventually collapsed while getting outscored 45-27 in the last 15 minutes.
“It’s been our M.O. for at least seven out of our last 10 games, we’ve been playing uphill,” Arenas said. “We’ve got to start coming out aggressive. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve got to start playing.”
We’ll see if the Wizards can get it together tomorrow night in San Antonio.