Earlier today, I broke down the various issues the Wizards are having on both ends of the floor.
The Celtics play the ultimate team basketball and won all four meetings last season. Blown coverages on the perimeter and switches on Isaiah Thomas will spell trouble.
Even though Al Horford (concussion) is out, coach Brad Stevens has the Wizards' number.
The Wizards had a chance to get off to a big lead in the first half and didn't so they ended up trailing by halftime.
And they had a chance to pull this game out late but had a long drought as the Rockets pulled away.
Is coach Scott Brooks correct that it's a team-wide problem -- not a first unit or second unit problem? Fact or fiction:
6:20-6:06: The pick-and-roll (Ryan Anderson for James Harden) goes swimmingly because Markieff Morris doesn't jam his man to disrupt him off the slip, or what's called a long-arm or contact show. He trails the play and Harden, defended well by Bradley Beal even though he gets deep, makes the easy dish inside for the layup. Granted, Anderson pops more often than dives to the basket. It wouldn't have been a bad idea for Marcin Gortat to stunt towards Anderson to make Harden second-guess himself in the air, and get back to Clint Capela to put a body on him. Also from Morris' position, he would've been better off doubling Harden up high to make him pick up his dribble to keep the ball out the middle and hope to recover to Anderson if successful.
2:10-2:00: Gortat comes up too high on this screen-roll between Harden and Nene. His only job here is containment and to hold up Harden until Beal can recover to get in front. But instead Harden splits, getes into the prime position (middle of lane) with lots of options. The pass here to Eric Gordon spotting up for the corner three is so simple and easy it shouldn't count as an assist.
1:28-0:33.7: The running of this screen-roll between Gortat-Marcus Thornton doesn't work. First, the spacing is off. There's no great angle to throw the ball into the post but Gortat ends up with Gordon defending him on a switch for few seconds of this possession and never touches the ball again. Beal holds it and can't make up his mind whether or not to attack Sam Dekker's feet off the dribble and the result is Kelly Oubre being put in a tough position to force a contested three with the shot clock running down. When they get the next possession, Thornton brings up the ball and takes a hasty, first-side shot. No one is in position to rebound. No one else touches the ball. After Houston loses it again with Harden turning it over, Beal does to Dekker what he should've done the first time -- attack his feet off the dribble. The result is a layup.
10:00-9:48: This is not how to run the pick-and-roll. The spacing between Smith and Thornton is out of whack so much so they almost trip over one another. Thornton makes a curous choice to try to split the double team and go at Nene who has two defenders in support behind him. The likelihood of Thornton finishing is slim to none. Smith isn't a good enough shooter from the arc to force the defense to respect him popping for a three. This is why, as you'll see in many examples involving Houston, having a three-point shooter (Anderson) works better. It spaces the floor. The result is Tomas Satoransky having to take a difficult runner to beat the shot clock that just misses. Not ideal.
8:28-8:08: Morris helps Satoransky on this Anderson-Hardon screen roll by opening up his man by pulling him level. That allows Satoransky to stay with his man and no switch as he get through the screen. The whistle was on Harden for a palming violation. But Satornasky follows it up with a turnover. Smith isn’t known for catching the ball off the roll and finishing in traffic. Satoransky is better off taking the shot and leaving Smith to get position to clean up if there’s a miss.
7:56-7:37: Thornton waits too long to feed Morris in the mid-post. First, Morris is bigger than Harden and Harden is vulnerable defensively. The moment Harden turns his back to the ball and Morris is facing Thornton, the lob over the top of Harden as he tries to establish position should’ve be thrown. Look behind Morris. Thornton, however, waits rather than making that quick touch pass over the top towards the baseline. Harden, who is physically strong, is able to get in position and then push Morris off his spot to take away the advantage. Capela recognizes and comes over to help and it ends in an empty possession because the Wizards waited too long in the shot clock.
6:37-6:27: Harden gets the screen from Anderson. Morris gets in too deep, doesn’t slow Harden and he gets a straight-line drive to the basket on Smith. Naturally the entire defense has to collapse which leaves Trevor Ariza spotting in the short corner for his specialty shot.
5:35-5:07: Anderson and Nene stack the screen for Gordon to come out of the corner on a loop, but the most dangerous player among these three isn’t Gordon. That’s outside of Nene’s range and he’s only a threat to slip to the basket. But Nene sets an inside screen for the screener – Anderson – as he pops for a wide-open three-pointer. Otto Porter can’t get back. In the most dangerous offenses, the screener is the most dangerous player because usually he can shoot threes. The Wizards follow this up by running a similar set where Morris screens and rescreens for Beal as Wall gets trapped in the paint. But their spacing isn’t correct and Ariza can defend Morris and Beal simultaneously to challenge their shots. The result is just blind pass, steal and a layup for Harden.
4:47-4:33: This is the right way to cover on that screen and roll by Gortat. He takes Anderson in a switch as Porter gets stuck on Nene’s off-ball screen. Anderson then comes over to screen Wall off Harden but look at Gortat’s positioning. He spreads his base wide to push the ball backwards a step -- a contact show -- staying connected to Anderson and tagging Harden to give Wall time to recover to the ball. And when the ball reversed to Anderson, Gortat is in position to contest and force the missed three.
3:55- 3:48: This is how you defend the pick-and-roll. Nene, a former Wizards forward/center, keeps his body on Gortat after he slips the screen and is able to challenge Wall at the rim with his 7-foot frame to force the missed layup. At the end of games, this is a tendency that the Wizards have to not move the ball. Only one person touches it and takes the shot. If it’s transition and there’s an opening that’s one thing but when the defense is set and able to load to the ball it doesn’t work as well.
2:42-2:35: This screen-roll by Harden-Nene shouldn’t be as effective as Harden-Anderson this far from the basket for one reason – Nene can’t shoot threes. Gortat had to play him for the drive on this one, sagging back to hold him up for Wall to recover and force the pass back to the Brazliian 20-plus feet from the basket. But Gortat comes up and flattens out way too high. He’s not going to be able to move laterally quick enough to prevent Harden from splitting and turning the corner for an easy bucket at the rim.
1:58-1:47: Again, this is how the Wizards needed to defend the Harden-Anderson screen-roll action all along. Morris gets into the ball to slow Harden, Wall recovers behind him and Morris recovers to his man. If by chance he’s not able to in time, Beal is lurking near the elbow to force the extra pass and it would be incumbent on Gortat to help the helper by sprinting over to stop Ariza’s catch-and-shoot. But the result of playing this correctly forces a shot late in the clock from beyond even Harden’s range.
1:34-1:27: This was the backbreaker. The Wizards had just missed two foul shots and then leave Anderson uncovered for a three. The screener (Anderson) picks Wall off of Harden and Morris stays glued on the switch. Wall tries to get back to Harden and leaves Anderson naked. It’s either a wide-open three for him or Porter leaves Ariza who’d get the high-percentage look from the short corner. It was too late (and the spacing too great between Harden and Anderson) for Wall to switch back onto his man.
Most of these examples involve starters. Though the reserves had a hand in what went wrong, they played well overall and were far more efficient. Though Brooks is prone to coachspeak and has taken the blame for the porous play from his bench all season, he's correct about the loss to Houston. There was enough blame to go around, but this one was mostly on the starters who are too experienced to repeatedly make these kind of mistakes.