The third quarter in Phoenix couldn’t have started out much more beautifully for the Wizards. John Wall found Nick Young for a 16-foot jumper, then he drove inside, drew Steve Nash and Jared Dudley, and fed Trevor Booker for vicious dunk in the lane. Booker then converted a three-point play that gave the Wizards a one-point lead with 8 minutes 13 seconds remaining in the period.
What followed was an incredible meltdown on both ends of the floor, a rapid descent that turned a close game into a laugher in a matter of minutes. The Phoenix Suns closed the period on 31-6 run and went on to defeat the Wizards for the 10th straight time, 104-88. Wizards Coach Randy Wittman didn’t have to think too hard about what happened.
“Selfish is what happened,” Wittman said after the Wizards finished 2-3 on their five-game road trip. “We became selfish. We didn’t share the ball and tried to do everything one-on-one, and a good team like Phoenix is going to take that away from you. That’s all it was.”
The Wizards (7-25) have had their share of second-half breakdowns, which is one of the reasons they have recorded 17 double-digit losses – second only to Charlotte – this season. But Wittman thought he had helped the Wizards overcome their tendency to break from the offense and go solo when tough times come.
“We were there for a lot of the game. I didn’t know we were down that much,” Booker said of his stunned reaction at the end of the third quarter, when the Wizards trailed by 24. “It was definitely a lot of one-on-one and anytime a team goes one-on-one, especially us, being a young team, and not having a true scorer, it’ll hurt us. We get our points playing team ball and we didn’t do that in the third quarter.”
As Steve Nash and the Suns pounded them with crisp ball movement, the Wizards tried to respond with quick jumpers. Rashard Lewis was sitting next to Maurice Evans as the Suns scored 16 consecutive points, with Nash ending the run with a difficult, hanging jumper over John Wall to put his team ahead 70-55.
Evans mentioned that the game was getting out of control and Lewis looked up, stunned how the team could go from leading to trailing by so much so quickly. “It flashed before my eyes. It happened so fast,” Lewis said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The Wizards missed 14 of their final 16 shots of the third period, with only four attempts coming within 10 feet. “They got on a run and we made some bad decisions. They took advantage of it,” Jordan Crawford said after scoring a team-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. “You’ll have to decide if it was bad shot selection. We can make those shots. When you get down, I think everybody tries to be the hero. I think that cost us.”
Crawford had the Wizards’ only assist during the run, and also made a short jumper to bring his team within 78-60. But the Suns scored seven straight, with reserve Michael Redd, the best player Ernie Grunfeld ever selected in the second round, making a three-pointer to put the Suns ahead by 25.
“A couple of times, I looked and thought a timeout was going to get called,” Wall said. “But we put ourselves in that situation. The only way to get yourself out of it is to play as a team and try to get stops. We weren’t doing the little things to help us.”
The Wizards started their road trip by ambushing the Detroit Pistons with an impressive 39-10 second-half run, which fueled a 98-77 win. But they have had too many games this season in which an opponent has taken advantage of their mental lapses and desire to play hero ball by pummeling them with a second-half run.
The Houston Rockets went on a 23-0 run last month that turned another close game into a rout. “We’re always right there, up one or down by one and something happens. We’ve got to find a way to stop teams from making a run,” Crawford said.
Or at least offering a little resistance when things fall apart.