Nene wasn’t neglected in the final minutes, as he had been in his first two home losses with the Wizards. John Wall and Jordan Crawford made sure that the Brazilian big man, playing despite a sore back, was allowed to operate in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons.
And Nene came through twice in the final minute — hitting a go-ahead jump hook and a game-tying jump hook — but the Wizards still suffered yet another home loss in a game they should’ve easily won. Nene had gone ignored during collapses against Indiana and Atlanta, but by the time the Wizards went inside to him on Monday, during a 79-77 loss, the game had already spiraled out of control.
“It was a tough game,” Nene said. “The last two games, we couldn’t close it out. We will get it done. It is a part of the learning process. We are doing a lot of good things and have to keep working hard.”
At this point, though, hard work isn’t enough for the Wizards. They need to get a win after losing three games in gut-wrenching fashion. Indiana rallied from 22 points to take a lead on three-pointer in the final minute. Atlanta came back from 16 points to drill a go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute. And Detroit was ghastly for most of the night, but overcame a 13-point deficit and claimed a lead in the final minute on a wide-open three-pointer.
“It was a carbon copy of the last two games here,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We have to get to the point where we get a lead and we don’t play to just play. We have to put games away in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. We haven’t learned that yet.”
The Wizards led 67-55 when Crawford hit a long jumper with less than 8 minutes 49 seconds remaining, but the lead was down to one in less than five minutes, as they missed several easy shots inside. Nene missed two layups and Chris Singleton missed a dunk.
“We’re getting great shots in the end, but we’re not making them,” said Wall, who was 0 for 3 in the fourth quarter, including an easy layup in the final minute. “When they making runs, we’re making the right play, we just have to get the ball to go in the basket.”
Roger Mason Jr. hit a three-pointer to push the lead back up to 71-67, but the Wizards couldn’t hold on, as a Pistons team that couldn’t score through the first 40 minutes couldn’t miss down the stretch.
Detroit was the aggressor, with Jonas Jerebko and Greg Monroe getting huge, rebound putbacks and Rodney Stuckey handling the rest. Stuckey has routinely taken it to the Wizards over his career, and he scored 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, making the go-ahead three-pointer with 55.9 seconds remaining and coolly burying the game-winning jumper with 0.2 of a second left.
“He made a tough step back jumper,” Nene said. “It was just a tough shot.”
The Wizards were playing the third game in three nights, but Crawford wouldn’t use fatigue as an excuse. “I mean, everybody is tired,” Crawford said. “Don’t make no difference.”
The two teams set back basketball to the pre-shot-clock era in the first half as they combined to score 65 points. It was a lockout delight, as they both took bad shots, committed offensive fouls and made inexplicable plays on offense.
Early in the first quarter, the 6-foot-3 Crawford backed down Pistons rookie guard Brandon Knight in the low post and kicked the ball out to 6-10 Nene for a three-pointer that came up well short. Later, Knight drove inside, came up a foot short on a four-foot runner in the lane and the crowd moaned as it hit the floor and bounced out of bounds. The Wizards came back down the floor and Crawford lost his dribble and it rolled right into his team’s bench.
The Wizards looked the part of a fatigued, tired team, early on. They shot just 35.7 percent in the first half, with Wall and Crawford combining to shoot 9 of 18, while the rest of the of the team was 6 of 24.
The Pistons hadn’t played since Saturday but they were even more lethargic, as they missed 26 of their 36 shots. Wall even tried to spot the Pistons a few points at the end of the first half, when he turned around to catch up with reserve Will Bynum and was called for goaltending. After further review, the referees concluded that the shot came after time expired, allowing the Wizards to enter the locker room up 35-30.
“The first half was horrible for both sides,” Stuckey said. “We really looked sluggish, and just an ugly exhibition of basketball. Due to the schedule this year I guess you can expect that some nights. Throughout the sluggish play, we always felt we were in the game.”
It was easy to feel that way against a Wizards team that hasn’t had much success since their unlikely home win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 7, when Kevin Seraphin made a series of clutch baskets in the fourth quarter. But the Wizards have a slightly different roster since the trade, and the adjustment of playing with a new piece has led to some gruesome results since that easy win over New Jersey in Nene’s debut.
With Trevor Booker out with knee tendinitis, Nene tried to provide a stabilizing force after missing the previous game against Boston with back spasms. “My back is sore. I’m doing the best I can,” Nene said.
And maybe, his teammates will let him know what it feels like to win a game at Verizon Center.
Related: Stuckey’s late basket sinks Wizards