The nearly-whole Wizards lost, 95-94, to the Sacramento Kings in all-too-familiar fashion – a late-game meltdown – but the reaction to the loss was different than previous close defeats.
A.J. Price, John Wall and Bradley Beal were huddled in one corner discussing aspects of the Kings’ defense that they failed to exploit down the stretch. Martell Webster sat next to Nene and they discussed an error that led to Kings guard Tyreke Evans getting to the foul line for the decisive free throw. And Coach Randy Wittman pulled aside Kevin Seraphin to explain to him what went wrong in the final minutes.
The Wizards (7-29) didn’t expect to fail their first test in a close game with Wall around to finish but instead of sulking, they searched for solutions.
“We improve in a lot of area, but to reach the next step, we need to defend better, pay attention and know folks a little bit better in the last quarter. That’s what I think,” Nene said after the Wizards dropped to 2-6 in games decided by three points or less. “This kind of game, we need to take like an example, to all get better. [The Kings] took the game. Was in our hands and they took it. They worked better than us. They work harder than us. So they deserve it.”
The Wizards let a 66-55 third-quarter lead vanish when Kings swingman John Salmons made a short baseline jumper to tie the game at 84 with 6 minutes 42 seconds remaining. But Wittman called a timeout and the Wizards responded with a 7-2 run over the next three minutes. They worked the ball to Nene, who found Seraphin inside for a dunk. Wall then fed Nene for a short jumper and Nene added a three-point play.
But the Wizards couldn’t hold on. Their next three offensive possessions ended with two Seraphin misses sandwiched between a Wall turnover, then DeMarcus Cousins hit a reverse layup to bring the Kings within 91-88. Seraphin missed another jumper, then made a huge error when he stepped in front of Cousins too late and meekly fouled him as he made a layup with 1:48 left. Cousins then tied the game with a free throw.
“It’s a physical game and coming down the stretch, you don’t give layups up,” Wittman said. “You don’t give up a three-point play. We haven’t learned that part coming down the stretch. We don’t give guys layups; make him earn it from the foul stripe. We give them a three-point play on a touch foul. Those are the kind of plays down the stretch, guys have to learn how to deliver that.”
Webster then gave the Wizards a 94-91 lead with a three-pointer, but the Wizards left Salmons open for three-pointer to tie the game. After Beal lost the ball on a turnover, Wall stole the ball from Cousins but missed both free throws with 30.4 seconds remaining.
Wall had two double-digit wins in his return, but the Wizards were hoping that he could help solve some of their problems with late-game execution. In his first pressure situation, Wall came up short at the line.
“I was upset,” Wall said, “but I knew we was going to get the ball back, I was just trying to get the ball back.”
The Wizards still had time to get a stop and take the last shot, but instead of giving Evans the space to take the jumper, Webster crowded him. Evans blew right by him and Nene tripped him as he got near the basket.
“Mental lapse on the defensive end,” Webster said. “a stupid defensive mistake by myself. I should’ve dropped a little bit lower. I have to know that. I’m down on myself for that.”
Evans only made one of two free throws, giving the Wizards another chance to win. Beal drove inside but had to alter his shot some when Kings forward Chuck Hayes got close to him. He missed badly, then Wall grabbed the rebound and rushed another attempt that came up well short.
“I had to take a tougher shot than I wanted to, but we had a second look at it and we just didn’t execute,” said Beal, who scored a career-high 26 points in the loss. “Yes, I played well but what really matters is the win. It’s disappointing because we all played hard.”
The Wizards are now 1-16 on the road.