Blatche's defense on Kendrick Perkins was a big reason for Washington's success. Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- The Oklahoma City Thunder may very well go on to win the 2012 NBA Finals. The Washington Wizards still may go on to have one of the lousiest seasons in NBA history.
So that's why Wednesday night's 105-102 full team victory goes down as the most important win for the franchise since Flip Saunders was hired in 2009. More than 15,000 people packed the gymnasium to see Kevin Durant (33 points, eight rebounds, seven turnovers) and Russell Westbrook (36 points, seven assists) put on a show and instead were treated an epic offensive battle.
The final minute of the game was stretched out into a free throw shooting contest, where the Wizards almost found themselves collapsing. Up 93-88, Washington missed five consecutive free throws (four by JaVale McGee) bringing the Thunder within a three-pointer with five seconds remaining. Durant seeped his way through a double-team and had an open look from 30-feet, but his shot clanked off the iron. The Wizards survived.
Washington could have caved down nine points early in the first or especially down 12 points early in the third quarter. But for the first time all season the Wizards weaknesses actually became their strengths. I'll explain.
1) Nick Young went off on Kevin Durant
"Swaggy P" entered the locker room at halftime with one of the worst half's of his season (two points, 0-5 FGS) but somehow finished with 24 points. The Wizards haven't had a shooting display to be proud of all season until Wednesday.
Young caught fire around the four minute mark with the Wizards trailing 63-57 and looking stagnant. The shooting guard stroked three triples from behind the arc in the third quarter, anchoring the Wizards comeback while Durant chased him around the perimeter like the two were playing tag. Young's biggest three of the night put the Wizards up 93-88 late in the fourth.
And possibly for the first time in his career, Young deserves serious recognition for his defense, albeit on the leagues best scorer. Durant was completely thrown off his game with the smaller Young denying him the ball. His first basket in the fourth quarter didn't come until 1:16 remained on the clock.
2) John Wall's decision making
A week ago, it would be hard to find any staunch Wall supporters in DC. People were angry with his regression. Wall did an exemplary job of what a point guard is supposed to do Wednesday. In the second half he was finally surrounded by hot shooters and his spacing of the floor was undeniably wearing down the Thunder. Plus he was changing his pace of play, keeping the Thunder guessing on when he could potentially bolt to the hoop.
Wall finished with 25 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and only three turnovers. Amazingly, he went 13-14 from the FT line too. While his defense on Russell Westbrook was non-existent, Wall's point guarding skills brought home Washington the win.
3) Jordan Crawford played every minute of the fourth quarter
After carrying the Wizards in the second quarter with 10 points, Crawford's offense earned the nod over Trevor Booker or Chris Singleton's hustle to play in the fourth. Credit goes to Flip Saunders for making the right call. Crawford was less selfish than usual, and weirdly displayed some excellent passes on the team's overwhelming ball movement. John Wall makes Crawford a better player. When Wall heats up, Crawford can feed off the energy. Expect to see his minutes increase.
4) Andray Blatche's demeanor
After being mercilessly booed by the home fans during starting introductions, Blatche played a vital role in the Wizards biggest win of the season. Kendrick Perkins was perhaps the worst player on the court Wednesday (0 points, five rebounds, three turnovers) after constantly battling with Dray underneath. In the two games back from his shoulder injury, Blatche has taken on more of a "role player" persona on the court, and it's working.
5) When Jan Vesely plays well, the Wizards win
He didn't amass the five steals he had against Toronto last week, but Vesely's aggression without the ball sparked the potentially drowning Wizards in the fourth quarter. On one possession early in the fourth, Vesely pulled down two offensive rebounds and slammed home the second making it an 82-81 game in favor of OKC. He played like Serge Ibaka plays for the Thunder, which is a role Flip Saunders will gladly have the rookie fill in as.
*Without the Wizards eight three-pointers, there's no way DC fans go home in a positive mood. All of the triples were hit in the second half which opened up rebounding opportunities for Blatche and Vesely.
*I'm not sure how much film the Thunder watched on the Wizards, but it may have rubbed off. OKC was missing layups, playing with sad body language and turned the ball over 21 times.
*John Wall may be the fan favorite, but Jan Vesely isn't far behind. His dunking and long arms on defense often receive staggering roars from the Washington faithful. He received a standing ovation when he left the game in the fourth.
*JaVale McGee is letting all this talk about his dunk affect him. He was ticked off in the locker room after the win. Needless to say us media folks aren't his favorite people in the world right now. The Wizards did a great job of giving him two alley-oops. Getting McGee in the air like that needs become a permanent fixture in the offense.
*Free throw shooting was shaky down the stretch, but played an important factor in the win. Washington got to the line 43 times, easily a season-high.
*I could get used to seeing 33 fourth quarter points. What a tremendous win for the Wizards.