When a team circles its wagons after it loses a key cog like John Wall, lip service is to be expected as players always will say the right things. Going out and proving it the way the Wizards did in winning Game 3 over the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks, however, is another matter.
"I was tired of getting all the text messages, "Awww, what are you guys going to do?'" said Drew Gooden. "What are we supposed to do? We still have confidence in guys ... We got to get it out of our heads if we're going to have him, if we're not going to have him because we got to find a way and nobody feels sorry for us."
Truer words couldn't have been spoken after the Wizards held on for a 103-101 victory Saturday and a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is tonight at Verizon Center, where the Wizards are unbeaten in three games this postseason. Wall broke his left wrist and hand in Game 1 and isn't expected to be available in this series, if at all in the event they advance. They're 11-40 without Wall in his fifth season.
Ramon Sessions will get his third start, and Will Bynum and Garrett Temple will assume control in relief. The trio combined to shoot just 4-for-17 but they scored 20 points by getting to the foul line 15 times in Game 3.
"We have no other choice," said Bradley Beal, Wall's backcourt mate, when asked about moving on. "We can sit here and make excuses or go out and win and prove people wrong. We have so much depth on this team. We have so many guys who stepped up tonight it was terrific. We just need that moving forward each and every game.
"We would love to have John but he's not with us. We got to do whatever it takes to win."
What team isn't banged up this late in the season? The Hawks were fortunate to not have any problems during the regular season but that has changed (Thabo Sefolosha, Paul Millsap). And just look around at the teams still alive in the playoffs.
"Other teams go through this as well. Memphis went through it with Michael Conley, Cleveland is going through it with Kevin Love, losing J.R. Smith to a two-game suspension," Gooden said. "Other teams are going through this. Pau (Gasol) is hurt now with a hamstring. He's doubtful so nobody is going to feel sorry for you in this situation. We know that."
Still, to keep the home-court advantage they took from Atlanta by winning Game 1 at Phillips Arena, the Wizards have to hold serve in Game 4. In their first game without Wall in this series, the Wizards were even late in the fourth quarter of Game 2 but fell apart late. They've had an answer to every wrinkle that they've had thrown at them.
"We haven't accomplished anything. Two wins doesn't get us anything," coach Randy Wittman said of his team being underdogs. "I want them to still think that way. They believe it. I think we saw that in Game 2 on short notice. It was basically 50 minutes before tip-off that they found out John wasn't going to play. They quickly went out there and did their darnedest to put themselves in position to win in Game 2. Think that carried right over into Game 3. Yes, these guys believe."