Relief Comes With a Win
That is how a team is supposed to play after a three-day rest and when it is facing an opponent that is A) lacking its starting center (Mehmet Okur) and B) is playing on the second straight night.
Washington's 95-87 win over the Utah Jazz last night may not solve everything that is wrong with Coach Eddie Jordan's team but it did allow everyone to catch their breath and feel better about life if only for a day or two.
The keys were much improved defense (the 87 points were by far the fewest allowed by the Wizards this season and Utah shot 43.4 percent from the field while turning it over 18 times), big efforts off the bench by JaVale McGee and Nick Young and a beautiful closing push that featured a 12-0 run.
It was strange watching a Jerry Sloan team turn it over eight times in the fourth quarter and fail to execute its basic pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop sets down the stretch. Give credit to the Wizards, who kept Carlos Boozer off his sweet spots (anything in the paint that allows him to get to his left hand) while also keeping Deron Williams out of the paint (where he is so dangerous). Down the stretch, Utah's shots went like this: missed 3 by Kyle Korver, missed jumper by Paul Millsap, missed (contested) 3 by Williams and missed 3 by Ronnie Brewer.
Sloan: "I thought the WIzards outplayed us. They seemed to want the game a little more than we did. They beat us off the dribble and on top of the basket. I thought the Wizards were a lot more aggressive on the boards than we were. We had way too many turnovers."
-I asked Jordan after the game about the possibility of starting McGee.
Jordan: "I still want to get as much as we can from our vets. Etan, Antonio -- I think they set the table for us. It might not seem that way to our fans and you guys but veteran reliability is something that we need. They may be a little slow, they may be a little small and not as exciting but veteran reliability is something that all coaches sort of put their hat on...for four or five minutes."
Jordan said that last part -- "for four or five minutes" -- with a little grin on his face, so read into that what you will. I do know this: A few players are not going to like the way this is going. I know for a fact that Antonio Daniels and Jordan spoke at length after the game. And Daniels, who played 12 minutes, 41 seconds and not at all in the fourth quarter, did not look pleased. Darius Songaila played only four minutes and it's clear that Thomas, though he plays hard as can be, is giving way to McGee.
The starting trio of Daniels, Thomas and DeShawn Stevenson produced nine points, four assists and three rebounds last night, though Stevenson's defense on Williams down the stretch was a huge key.
-One other thing jumped out to me last night: Nick Young shook off a bad night and made a huge play down the stretch -- that driving layup that gave the Wizards a 86-82 lead with 1:18 to go. Then, Young went in among the big boys and snatched a defensive rebound following that missed 3 by Brewer. He secured the ball, drew a foul and then basically put the game away by making two free throws. This on a night when he had been two-of-nine from the floor, had a bad turnover earlier in the fourth and also had Korver curl off screens in textbook fashion and drill a pair of fourth quarter jumpers in his face.
Last season, that would've put Young in the tank, but he hung in there and made plays. Huge sign of growth from where I sit.
Me to Jordan: "I don't know that he does that last year."
Jordan: "Probably not. He probably wouldn't have been in the game first of all but certainly, he has grown. As complicated as people talk about our offense being, he has really learned how to run the offense and how to execute and get his shot and he's become a good passer. We've always said; good ball players can run any offense if they are unselfish enough no matter what it is and he's a good ball player. He's unselfish, he's got great a instinct to score and he's getting better defensively. Right now he's one of our smartest players."
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