Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wiz topple Thunder, which everyone totally expected

Heading into last night's lopsided matchup, the Thunder, at 12-2, had only one more loss than the 1-12 Wizards had wins. So of course the Wizards would battle throughout and eventually pull out a tough 105-102 win in front of a home crowd looking for any reason to stand and cheer.

John Wall and Nick Young, who both shot 6-17 from the field, shouldered the scoring load, posting 25 and 24 points, respectively. Wall added eight assists, seven rebounds, and made 13 of 14 free throws. He also committed just three turnovers in a game-high 45 minutes. And Young, who had just two points in the first half, scored 22 points in the final two quarters, including five (of 10) three-pointers. He also didn't turn the ball over in 34 minutes.

I was especially impressed by Wall, who played six more minutes than any other player. He wasn't as good this game as he was against the Rockets, when he put up 38-6-8 with four steals, but he seemed under control and set his teammates up with good shots. It helped that Young actually started making shots in the second half, but again, Wall kept finding him. In his last two games, Wall has made 25 of 30 free throws, which is also a good sign. He still has a lot of work to do on his jump shot, but that doesn't mean the rest of what he does on the floor -- which is a ton for this team -- means nothing. And his shooting will improve.

Jordan Crawford chipped in 18 points off the bench on 4-10 shooting, adding six rebounds, two assists, and a steal. He did turn the ball over three times, but he also frequently passed the ball and wasn't routinely calling his own number out there, which is a positive for him.

The Thunder shot nearly 10 percent better than the Wizards from the field (48.1-38.4), but the Wizards made seven more free throws (shooting an impressive 43 for the game), grabbed nine more rebounds (52-43), and dished out three more assists while committing four fewer turnovers. The Wizards also nailed four more threes, which was particularly surprising.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 69 points, but the Wizards actually made them work for them (at times). Those two combined to hit 25 of 50 shots, but they also made just 2 of 12 three-pointers (including Durant making just 2 of 10). Durant also had seven turnovers, while Westbrook had three.

Keeping things close and only down 82-81 with 8:33 left in the game, the Wizards went with a Wall-Crawford-Young-Jan Vesely-JaVale McGee lineup. When Andray Blatche entered the game for Vesely six minutes later, the Wizards were up five points and made just enough free throws to hold the Thunder off. The length of Vesely and McGee bothered the Thunder, and they tipped several passes. McGee grabbed 11 rebounds (adding two steals and a block), and during the game he repeatedly tried to bat rebounds back to his teammates. His strategy didn't always work; occasionally his batted rebounds ended up in the hands of a Thunder player, which inadvertently started their fast break. But in the fourth quarter, McGee opted to use two hands and actually grabbed the ball more. You have to wonder if the coaches talked to him about changing his volleyball tactics at some point in the second half.

Vesely was also particularly active (mostly on the defensive end), finishing with six points, three rebounds, a steal, and a block in 19 minutes. He had two turnovers, but he also shot 3-6 from the field. I'm pretty sure that all of his shots came right at the rim, which is exactly where Vesely should be shooting from (just like McGee and Trevor Booker). No jumpers, fellas.

For Wizards fans out there who feel good about this game: Guess what, you should. I certainly enjoyed the win. Real fans know it probably doesn't mean a whole lot, particularly because for as nice as that win was, the Wizards are still 2-12. But any positives this season should be relished. And it also doesn't hurt when the team's younger players perform well under pressure. It's all about building and improving, or something along those lines. It's probably about pixels, too, I guess. Right Ted?