After a three-point play from John Wall and two free throws by Marcin Gortat, the Wizards were ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies 96-88 with 3:56 left on Sunday night. It was their largest lead of the game that they would lose in overtime 112-103. So what happened and why?
A lot of things. And the outcome had to do with a lot more than Marc Gasol's three-point shot to force the extra period. Memphis never should've been in that position if the Wizards had taken care of business. This is how what should've been the Wizards' first win of the season turned into their second loss at FedEx Forum:
3:29-3:17: Look at the spacing when Wall is isolated on Andrew Harrison. Otto Porter and Bradley Beal are standing in the same spot and can be defended by one man (Mike Conley). Despite this, as Wall makes his move Vince Carter already is taking his eyes off Markieff Morris who is spotting up for a wide-open, high-percentage three-point look. Carter comes over to contest. Wall backrims the pullup. Memphis has all five defenders at this point at or below the foul line. This all leads to the run out by Carter as he was struck on the head by Wall for a Flagrant 1 foul that changed the tone of the game because it turned into a five-point play -- two made free throws and the ball (Conley made a three).
2:47-2:37: This possession is doomed after the dribble handoff between Wall and Beal. James Ennis disrupts the play by almost getting a strip and 15 seconds have gone off the shot clock. Beal flows into a two-man game with Gortat but ends up taking a contested long two that’s no good. The 7-foot Gasol was on top of the release but this probably is a better sequence if Beal used his hesitation dribble to attack the big man for a closer, possibly uncontested look or used a pocket pass to Morris if he cuts baseline to give him the passing angle. Only three seconds were left on the shot clock on Beal’s release but the Wizards need more calm in attacking the mismatch properly.
2:05-1:55: When Wall decides attack Conley off the screen from Gortat, good idea. It’s 5 vs. 4. The shot is still contested, however, by Gasol, the Wizards’ biggest player (Gortat) isn’t in position to rebound a miss and Beal doesn’t fill the backcourt to prevent Conley’s runout for a layup. He starts walking the moment the shot goes up as Conley sprints. Wall either forgets about Conley is there or thinks he has a safety valve to cover for him. Morris stood in the weakside short corner, again, wide open for a three which was the better shot. Note: It's a small sample size as Morris has only taken five three-pointers, but he has made 60% of them.
1:35-1:28: Conley is trapped as he tries to run the side pick-and-roll with Gasol. It’s unclear what the defensive coverage call was here, but Wall doesn’t use the sideline as an extra defender. They usually prefer to "ice," as in send the ball baseline, in these situations. It appears that the purpose was to not switch, allow Wall to stay on Conley and Gortat to stick with Gasol. They accomplished that part. But that decision allows Conley to get enough separation to get by Wall who is trailing the play and tries to contest. Morris, who is playing the 2/9 position to protect the rim – he’s effectively a zone coverage to load up on Conley with the ball -- makes a half-hearted reach-in. He doesn’t move his feet to take the charge or redirect the ball nor goes for the shot block on the 6-foot guard with his 6-10 frame. The Wizards had 3 vs. 2 and allowed a layup. They failed to keep the ball out of the middle, the most dangerous spot on the floor when a creator (in this case, the best one for Memphis) has the ball.
1:23-1:03: The Wizards stack the screens for Wall with Gortat and Morris then they stack them for Beal to come off the baseline to get the ball. JaMychal Green shows to prevent the catch-and-shoot three, Beal runs to the opposite side and get the ball. Ennis navigates the screens and recovers perfectly. By the time Beal gets the ball, there are only six seconds left on the shot clock and Ennis’ ball pressure forces the pick-and-roll with Gortat higher than preferred. Gasol switches onto Beal two feet beyond the three-point arc and wisely uses the sideline as an extra defender. Beal gives up his dribble. Memphis has 4 vs. 2 – Gasol, Ennis, Conley and Green. Beal and Gortat are stranded on an island on the strong side. The result is yet another turnover. The better read for Beal would've been immediate recognition that play was dead in the water and reversing the ball to Wall to go 1 vs. 1. with Conley at the top. Wall either could've created for himself or drawn the defense for a kick out to where there was more space. Unlike the Wizards in the previous example, the Grizzlies kept the ball out of the middle.
It's about more than the final-play execution, when Wall ran into the teeth of the defense and didn't get a good look. A lot of this is about attention to detail and developing better habits. When the games get tighter -- and the opponent's defense gets tougher and the officials tend to swallow their whistles more often -- the Wizards have to be better decision-makers. That starts with the leaders, Wall and Beal, because how they respond in these situations bleeds into the rest of the roster.