Despite a weekend with two losses by a combined 43 points, Wizards coach Randy Wittman did not question his teams effort, but challenged his players to play with a purpose. The Wizards' 111-108 overtime win against the Toronto Raptors made it clear Wittmans message was received.
When John Wall, 6 feet 4, blocked two shots in succession by Raptors center Amir Johnson, 6-9, early in overtime, the Verizon Center crowd responded, and there was a sense then that the team might, too, and avenge Fridays loss in Toronto. Thirty seconds later, it was Trevor Bookers turn to emphatically block a Johnson shot.
Bookers block had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer on a road crew, but with the precision of a surgical instrument. In short, defense allowed the Wizards to survive the extra session with only one made field goal. The Raptors were 0 for 8 from the field in overtime.
Thats this team, Wittman said. We are athletic. John is a point guard, but he is probably as athletic a point guard at 6-4 of any point guard in the league. And Book (Booker) we know his flying renditions of blocks.
A cynic would note that the Raptors were missing their leading scorer Andrea Bargnani because of a calf injury, and it should not have turned into such a scrap-fest with extra time needed to settle things. After all, the Wizards were cruising to their best offensive night of the season when they built an 18-point lead in the third quarter. By the end of the third quarter the Wizards were shooting a season high 55 percent from the field.
Trouble was brewing for the Wizards. All season the Wizards have struggled with pick and roll defense and the ability to locate shooters on the perimeter. The Raptors surge against the Wizards came by methodically trading three-point field goals for the Wizards two-point field goals.
In the third quarter the Raptors were 5 of 6 from three-point distance and in the fourth quarter they were 6 of 9 from beyond the arc. The long distance connections by the Raptors were threatening to undermine an otherwise solid night by the Wizards. The game triggered uneasy feelings in Wizards fans who remembered the loss on opening night to the Nets after having a 21-point lead.
We got the win and that is what we needed both mentally and physically, Wittman added. I am happy for that. These young kids have to learn how to play down the stretch in games that become hectic. We were much better tonight in recognizing what the Raptors were doing.
Wall was a big part of the Wizards ease in running their offense. To Walls game there was a nice blend of under control drives to the basket and well timed mid-range jump shots. On the score sheet Wall turned in 31 points, 7 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocked shots. Many of Walls assist were to Booker who had a season-high 19 points.
That is as good of a game as I have had with him on both ends of the floor, said Wittman. We do have things we need to clean up though. We have to be willing passers, and make simple plays. John was making the right plays and nice pick and rolls with Trevor (Booker). Everyone on this team can make plays and we need to trust that.