John Wall and the Washington Wizards caught the attention on a national stage in the first round of the playoffs. They handled the second best defense in the league in the Chicago Bulls very well. They matched up perfectly with size and speed and were able to out them in only five games.
But the Indiana Pacers have turned out to be a much different animal. The Pacers–once a defense that put up historic numbers–have gotten back to their roots. Shutting down the transition game, not allowing easy buckets and putting teams through the grinder. That’s something that the Wizards weren’t really expecting–especially after the vastly successful game 1.
What will puzzle most people about last night’s game is that the Wizards jumped out to a 19 point lead at one point. They were looking like the same team that handled the Chicago Bulls so well. John Wall was pushing the pace, the wings were open and hot with their shooting and the big men were actually running the floor. But that 19 point lead turned slowly evaporated and the next thing you know the game is tied.
The biggest difference for the Pacers was stopping the live ball turnovers and corralling Washington in transition. They allowed 18 fast break points in the first half but the Wizards weren’t able to get one in the second half. They rested on their laurels and started walking the ball up the floor again just as they did in game 3 when they were destroyed.
The Wizards weren’t able to score in transition and semi-transition and that’s how you have to beat the Indiana Pacers. Jeff Teague said that the Hawks created a blueprint, and in a way they did. They pushed the ball up the floor at every chance they got and they had open shooters on the outside for Teague to find off of his penetration.
John Wall isn’t being afforded the same luxury with shooters, but he does have the opportunity to attack in transition. But the Pacers aren’t guarding him at all when he’s on the outside or when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Take a look at how far off George Hill plays him here.
Wall has to shoot that ball there. His outside shot opens up so many things for the Wizards offense and it’s a requirement against a defense like this. They’re not looking at him as a threat without the ball and he’s making it easy for them to guard him. By driving the ball here into a crowded paint with no one else open, Wall gives the defense an opportunity to recover and force a turnover. George Hill is able to slide back in Wall’s way and force him to change hands quickly.
Wall not taking shots is hurting the Wizards more than him actually missing them. Taking the shots keeps the defense on it’s toes and forces their hand when guarding him. Are you going to leave him wide open and give minimal coverage? Especially once he starts hitting them again. Wall became a very good shooter during the season, so he can definitely pose a threat there. But he just has to make sure that he’s giving an effort to.
With the Pacers setting up walls in transition, there isn’t a lot of room for penetration and shots at the rim with Roy Hibbert in the middle. Outside of cutting and actually pulling him away from the basket with offense coming from the side, there isn’t much that you can do. So Wall’s jumpshot is key if the Wizards want to get going in game 5 and stage a historic comeback.
Will it happen? I’m not sure. I doubt it. It seems like Wall’s confidence is shot. He had a wide open three pointer in the waning moments of the fourth quarter that he passed up. He normally will make teams pay on possessions like that and at least take the shot–even if it’s a quick hitter. But Wall is passing up jump shots and thinking about the game too much.
He’ll recover from this eventually, but by the time he does it may be too late. This is the absolute worst time Wall could have lost his jumper. Had he not, the series would be much closer. But now, the Wizards are left scrambling for answers headed into a do-or-die game 5.