The Wizards were on the brink of elimination last night. They were on the ropes just hoping to fight for one more round. The talk throughout the town was about how the Pacers were on their come-up and how the Wizards reverted to the form that they were in before. They were the inconsistent, malfunctioning team that had no place in the second round of the playoffs.
The Indiana Pacers were dominating them in every form and fashion. Roy Hibbert returned to “form” and got going as a scorer against the Wizards. Paul George finally broke free of Trevor Ariza’s vise-grip and dropped 39 on the Wizards heads. The Wizards improbably squandered a 19 point lead to the offensively inept Pacers and blew another game in the series.
It seemed like the Pacers’ woes transferred over to the Wizards at just the right time. They managed to steal two games from Washington and take a 3-1 lead in the series. With a team who’s core is as inexperienced as the Wizards’, most of the national media counted them out for game 5. They thought the Pacers would just waltz into the Conference Finals like they should’ve done in the first place. Bradley Beal was the lone Wizard playing well and they weren’t going to be able to ride a 20 year old’s back into the Conference Finals.
The Wizards were done–they were dead. Kaput. Finished. John Wall wasn’t playing like John Wall. He looked more like John (Insert Soft Item Here). His eye may have been bothering him, but he still wasn’t driving at Roy Hibbert. He still wasn’t shooting the ball well enough to matter offensively against a team that he needed to matter against. He wasn’t being the John Wall that the nation had come to know and love. There were questions about his heart, confidence and mental toughness–much like the ones LeBron James faced throughout the initial struggles in his career–though, maybe not to the same extent.
But John Wall bounced back like a great player would do. And John Wall is, indeed, a great player in today’s NBA. He’s the best player on the Washington Wizards and he showed the world that yesterday. When their backs were against the wall in a do-or-die situation, John Wall proved his worth. He scored 27 points against the stingy defense that haunted him throughout the series and in the regular season. He had his best game in the postseason to date and we finally got our first taste of playoff John Wall.
And not only was Wall spectacular during last night’s game, but Marcin Gortat absolutely stole the show. He shot 13 of 15 from the field and scored 34 points against David West and Roy Hibbert–two of the most bad ass defenders in the NBA today. There was no guarding Gortat last night. And more importantly, there was no keeping that man from eating the glass. He stole dinner from everyone’s plates with nine defensive rebounds and seven(!) offensive rebounds. Gortat’s shot chart was spectacular last night and he played a huge role in keeping the Wizards alive–a big turnaround from being glued to the bench in the fourth quarter of game 4.
But back to Wall–he was absolutely spectacular. He turned the game around by hitting the jumpshots that he wasn’t taking throughout the series. The Pacers were affording him these shots throughout the series and he just wouldn’t take them. Before last night’s game, Wall had shot 31.4% on the series and 11.5 points on 12.8 shots per game–a terrible ratio for a player of any caliber.
But last night, Wall played as aggressive as he ever had. He took every shot the Pacers let him have and that opened up things for the rest of the team offensively. Wall has had that free throw line jump shot available to him all series long. Last night, he took them and they actually went down.
Wall passing that jumper up hurt more than him not taking it. It showed the defense that the confidence in his shot was gone and it made him ten times easier to defend. Defenders would play under the screen while help layered up on the back end to prevent Wall from finding an easy lane to the basket. The same thing happens in the video above. Lance Stephenson hedges Wall to prevent him from turning the corner easily, but then there’s no one to defend against that open shot.
Wall probably could make it into the lane here with the type of speed he has, but Mahinmi and West will have a chance to collapse on him. Taking the jumper was the best option for Wall here because it was wide open, uncontested and he needed to get going from outside. That’s what happened last night. Just take a look at his shot chart.
Wall only had three of his 20 shots come at the rim, yet he still managed to have a 64.7% true shooting mark. Wall was absolutely on a tear from outside and that opened up so much for the Wizards offensive gameplan. Wall had all of the attention on him as soon as he crossed the three point line. Take a look at where Watson picks Wall up in this semi-transition opportunity for Washington.
The Pacers defense is scrambling after the Wizards bring the ball up on the break. Only four Wizards have crossed halfcourt, but Wall pushes the ball up anyway in order to draw the defense to him. He does just that and makes the play to Marcin Gortat. But look where Watson picks him up at. He’s 30 feet out from the basket. By now, Wall has shown that he’ll take open jumpers when they’ll allow him to so Watson has to come over a bit earlier to prevent Wall from getting to the rim or pulling up from the middle.
That puts Watson off balance enough for Wall to make this play with his speed.
Because of his offensive game in this one, Wall was drawing every eye on the defensive end. In transition, the Pacers normally set up a three man wall to prevent Wall from getting an easy path to the basket. They’d trail back as close to the rim as they could, but they weren’t able to do that in this one because of how his jump shot was working.
Wall catches every one of the Pacers ball watching here. They’re all trying to prevent him from getting the easy drive while also preventing him from taking the free throw line pull-up jump shot. George Hill, who picked up Ariza in transition as he sprinted to the corner, ends up ball watching. Stephenson does the same on Beal and George is waiting for the trailing big above the break.
David West picks up Wall, but he doesn’t play him aggressively because that will open up the driving lane. His best bet here is to use his length to contest Wall into a baited jumper. But Wall remains patient, as he has been all playoffs, and finds a cutting Ariza behind the defense. Wall sucked the Pacers bigs a bit further out because of his shooting and then delivered an absolute dime. You can watch that in real time below.
And another thing that Wall’s shot opened up for the Wizards: the high screen and roll. This has never been a staple of the Wizards offense but it’s always been one of their more productive plays. With Wall’s new found ability on the pull-up jump shot this season, it became even more difficult to cover. We can see that in this play below.
Gortat, a master screener, gives John Wall a high screen on the right wing. Wall goes toward the baseline and Gortat takes C.J Watson out of the play. Wall takes the ball back to the middle of the floor and forces Roy Hibbert to come out and guard him to prevent another open jumpshot.
Wall now has the play at his fingertips. He can choose to go at Hibbert while he’s off balance and get to the rim, bring him back to the outside and get Gortat a post look or hit Gortat on the roll. Wall chooses the latter option and zips the ball into Gortat while he’s rolling toward the basket. Gortat’s screen made it a 1-on-2 play and Wall’s manipulation opened the lane up for Gortat.
Wall and Gortat likely won’t be this explosive again. Although they’ve both had poor series thus far, you can’t expect them to perform to perfection during every game. But if Wall continues to play aggressively from the outside and take the shots the Pacers are giving him, things will continue to open up for the Wizards’ offense.
It seemed like he was playing with the Pacers in his head from the regular season. They did absolutely everything that they could to stop him from getting comfortable looks. But they have to surrender something, and it looks like it’ll be that midrange jump shot. Wall isn’t as good off the ball as he is on it just yet, so taking the ball out of his hands makes it much easier for the Pacers to take him out of the game.
Wall is going to have to continue to take these shots if the Wizards want to win the next game. They have to take things one game at a time, but without Wall they don’t have a shot. Luckily for the Wizards, it seems like he has his shot back. They just have to hope that they continue to drop and the Pacers have to continue to guard him.