The Jekyll and Hyde relationship that the Wizards have with defense never has been more pronounced than Monday's game with the Brooklyn Nets. They were getting buckets at will on offense to start the game and took defense for granted.
They trailed 66-51 by halftime to a five-win team, but they put it in another gear out of the locker room to win 118-112.
When coach Scott Brooks, and before him Randy Wittman, highlighted effort being the main culprit it seems cliche. It can even seem like a coach who could be blaming his players for his own shortcomings. The schemes didn't change for the Wizards in wiping out a 15-point deficit. The assertiveness did:
They began the first quarter this way to get into a hole:
-- Isaiah Whitehead gets into the lane after a handoff from Trevor Booker, getting around John Wall easily. That penetration forces Marcin Gortat to sink into help stop the layup which frees Brook Lopez for his first made three-pointer of the game.
-- This is an easy entry pass to Lopez as he's being defended by Gortat. Sean Kilpatrick meets no resistance as he cuts to the rim for the handoff. Bradley Beal is trailing the play and Gortat doesn't anticipate or help to stop the straight-line run to the rim. Handoffs are difficult to guard and require help unless the on-ball defender can disrupt the play by getting a deflection before the ball changes hands. Too often, the Wizards' backcourt doesn't cover it correctly with initial defense (Brooks said Otto Porter, in particular, has struggled with defending this action).
-- Booker meets no resistance and posts deep on Markieff Morris who is on the outside the wrong hip. Entry passes and finishes don't get easier than this. Either Morris is expecting help from Gortat, who can't because Lopez is spotting in the corner, or just fell asleep. He didn't do enough to fight his way back back into the play to three-quarter Booker and is pinned. When Gortat sees that Booker is going for the shot, he starts to cheat inside but it's too late. Booker makes a counter move away from potential help to get to his preferred left hand for the finish.
The began the third quarter this way to turn the tide:
-- Gortat makes a quick show on Kilpatrick to contain the ball on the pick-and-roll to help Beal. His help defense, Porter and John Wall, stop Lopez's roll to the basket by tagging him and sprint back to recover to their men as Gortat gets back in position on Lopez. Morris makes an immediate switch on Bojan Bogdanovic realizing he's the threat from the arc (originally Porter's man before he helped) and not Booker. Contested three way off. Shot clock violation
-- The ball pressure on Whitehead by Beal starts this. Porter tries to go over the top and get the deflection as Bogdanvic comes off this curl, but Morris helps to contest to stop the layup at the rim. Similar to handoffs, these can be snuffed out with help but it requires recognition ahead of time and the helper holding up that slasher for his teammate to recover or making the play on the ball. And when the helper vacates his frontline position, someone has to bump down on his man on the low block to prevent the extra pass or offensive rebound and putback.
-- Wall gets into the ball, and Gortat traps aggressively as they negate the screen-roll with Lopez. The moment Kilpatrick gets his back turned, Porter anticipates the only pass he can make out of this and that's to Lopez. Porter is on his blindside, too, and look how far he travels to get that steal and the breakaway. The tide has officially turned.
Fortunately for the Wizards, this was a five-win team. These sorts of sleepwaking episodes will result in losses against better opponents.