Wizards

Packers again can believe in their defense

Packers again can believe in their defense

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The Green Bay Packers again have a defense that they believe can win games for them.

``You know, last year, there weren't many games where you'd say that,'' Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. ``Of course, our offense was playing so well, it was such a different scenario.''

This year, the Aaron Rodgers-led offense isn't as unstoppable, which is why the NFL MVP appreciates the defense's return to form.

``For our defense to play that way, it gives our offense a ton of confidence, knowing that we don't have to press thinking that we got to score just about every possession in order to win the game,'' Rodgers said earlier this week on his weekly radio show. ``They keep playing like this, we're going to be tough to beat.''

Last year's defense ranked dead last in the 32-team NFL in yards allowed, gave up more passing yards than any defense in NFL history and finished 19th in scoring defense.

In 2012, the defense entered this week's games 16th in yards allowed per game (343.9), 21st in yards passing allowed per game (244.4), 11th in yards rushing allowed per game (99.5), 10th in scoring defense (20.7 points per game) and second in sacks (33). Coach Mike McCarthy now acknowledges that last year's defense simply wasn't good enough, prompting him to focus on making his team more balanced.

``Our special teams has graded out consistently as the best unit. The defense graded out this week (against Detroit) as the best unit,'' McCarthy said. ``Offensively, we have to pick it up. We didn't grade very well.

``But that's how you win the hard games. That's why you win the tough games. That's what good teams do.''

And that's why the Packers may be in better position for a long playoff run this year.

``Last year, if the offense struggled, the team struggled,'' veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. ``Now this year, I think it's more of a team effort. I think we pick each other up.''

Never were the Packers' issues last season more evident than in the two games they played against the Giants - their opponent again Sunday night.

In the Dec. 4 regular-season meeting at MetLife Stadium, the Packers won a 38-35 shootout on Mason Crosby's game-winning 31-yard field goal as time expired.

The Packers' offense racked up 449 yards, but the Giants had 447. The Packers' offense scored touchdowns on four of its five trips into the red zone; the Giants scored on three of their four. The Packers' 12 possessions ended in four touchdowns, five punts, one interception, one missed field goal and Crosby's game-winner. The Giants' 12 possessions ended in four touchdowns, four punts, two field goals, one interception and one fumble.

Then, in the Jan. 15 rematch in the NFC divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field, when the offense wasn't up to the task of going touchdown-for-touchdown with the Giants, the Packers were in trouble.

In a 37-20 loss that wasn't that close, they allowed Eli Manning to complete 21 of 33 passes for 330 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Rodgers was very un-Rodgers-like (26 of 46, 264 yards, two TDs, one INT, one lost fumble). The Giants racked up 420 total yards, and the Packers managed only one sack and one takeaway.

The Giants converted half of their third-down situations. With the Packers offense turning the ball over four times, the defense couldn't save the day with takeaways of its own.

This year's defense is different, and that's obvious to Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who had Capers as his defensive coordinator in Jacksonville for two seasons.

``The Packers' defensive team last year had a tremendous amount of takeaways,'' Coughlin said Wednesday. ``This year's team has not as many takeaways, but they appear to be playing a much tighter, much better defense. The personnel combinations are really obvious, lots of young players contributing.''

Last Sunday against the Lions, the Packers offense managed only two touchdowns: Rodgers' 20-yard first-quarter TD to Jermichael Finley and his go-ahead 22-yard TD to Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter. But the Packers won because of safety M.D. Jennings' 72-yard interception return for a touchdown and the way the defense, trailing 17-14, held the Lions to a field goal late in the fourth quarter when a touchdown likely would have put the game out of reach.

``What you want is a confidence level with your team that there's going to be days that one side of the ball's not clicking. And you're good enough that the other side picks up the slack,'' Capers said. ``To me, that's an indication of a good football team.

``That way, you don't always have to depend on having to outscore people. And obviously being a defensive guy, I've always felt that if you have a good defense, it gives you a chance.''

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Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

After calling an inconsistent game throughout the night, the referees made a decision with five minutes to go in Game 4 that nearly altered the entire series between the Wizards and Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan was chasing a rebound on the baseline and ran into Bradley Beal. Beal, who had a team-high 31 points, was levied a sixth and final foul with the score tied. 

Beal had unloaded for 20 points in 12 minutes in the second half, but now the Wizards would have to close it out without their All-Star shooting guard. Somehow, they were able to seal the win and tie the series.

Beal heard the whistle as he laid on the ground. He immediately hopped up and unleashed a tantrum that nobody could blame him for.

He jumped up and down, screaming at the referees, who had just called by all accounts a questionable foul and in a key moment of a playoff game.

Both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were incensed and with good reason.

“I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated," Beal said. "I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that."

Beal is probably lucky the referees didn't take offense to his reaction because it continued when he was on the bench. He walked past his teammates and leaned over with his hands on his knees, still furious. Then he returned to the sideline to yell at the refs. Center Ian Mahinmi helped convince him to step back and cool off.

Beal has made a major difference in this series. He averaged 14.0 points in the first two games, both losses. He has averaged 29.5 points in Games 3 and 4, two Wizards wins.

Getting him out of the game was a major break for the Raptors, but they couldn't take advantage. The Wizards closed the final five minutes on a 14-6 tear. John Wall stepped up to lead the charge with eight of those points.

The Wizards still had one star on the court and he played like one.

“Just go in attack mode," Wall said. "When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took... I just wanted to do whatever, so that we could advance to Game 5, tied 2-2.”

Once Beal composed himself, his confidence grew in his teammates. He and Wall feel comfortable playing without each other because they have done so often throughout their careers.

This year, Wall missed 41 games due to a left knee injury. Two years ago, Beal missed 27 games. Early on in his career, he had trouble staying healthy. Now he is an iron man who played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

Beal has grown accustomed to being on the floor a lot, but he realized he can still affect the game from the sidelines.

"I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances," Beal said. "Face the adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

Wall and others did the heavy lifting in the end. The Wizards used Kelly Oubre, Jr. as the shooting guard with Beal out and he made key plays down the stretch, including a steal on Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds.

The Wizards were thrown a significant curveball and they overcame it to put themselves in good position now having won two straight.

“You have to have resolve to win in this league," Brooks said. "You win playoff games and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games and one of them has to be on the road."

When it comes to the officiating, the Wizards deserve credit for their resilience and restraint early in Game 4. The Raptors had 16 free throws in the first quarter compared to the Wizards' four. Washington perservered and ended up with more free throws (31) than the Raptors (30) did for the game.

In Game 1, the Wizards appeared to be affected by a lack of foul calls. That came was called loosely by the referees, while this one was officiated tightly. Though Beal went off, the Wizards for the most part stayed the course and were rewarded for it.

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.

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