The Wizards weren’t playing particularly fluid offensive basketball and seemed disjointed defensively even as the scoreboard showed that they were dominating the Philadelphia 76ers through the first 27 minutes of Friday’s home opener.
They appeared to have little reason for concern when forward Trevor Booker backed down 76ers forward Thaddeus Young, faked left, turned right and hit a fadeaway jumper to put them up 11 points. John Wall later added a free throw to push the lead to 12 but after that, the ill-advised shots and the halfhearted ball pressure and traps suddenly caught up with the Wizards in a third-quarter collapse that contributed mightily to their 109-102 loss at Verizon Center.
“I think we got comfortable. After we got up,” Booker said, “we figured it would be an easy win.”
That attitude was apparent during the final 6½ mintues of the third quarter, when the Wizards squandered an opportunity to bury the 76ers and instead surrendered an 18-6 run that that allowed Philadelphia to enter the fourth quarter with the game tied. The Wizards recovered to take a nine-point lead in the final period, but the relentless and carefree 76ers had already developed the confidence to believe that it could stun its second opponent in as many games.
Wall has clearly separated himself from 76ers forward Evan Turner, who was selected one spot after in the 2010 NBA draft. But Turner does have a two-to-none edge in playoff appearances and he outscored Wall, 12-3, in the second half on Friday, with six coming during that critical third-quarter run. Turner started the rally when drove around Martell Webster and pulled up over Marcin Gortat and he added a reverse layup that brought the 76ers within 72-70.
After Turner’s layup, Wall took an errant three-pointer and Booker made valiant save to Bradley Beal, who could never find his groove on the offensive end and couldn’t hide his frustration for not getting touches in rhythm and having some poor touch on the shots that he did take. Trying to get something going for himself, Beal waved off Wall and called for an isolation play at the top of the key. But instead of using a Gortat screen to attack the rim, Beal pass out to Webster for a corner three-pointer that missed badly.
Carter-Williams was off on the run and Wall stepped in front of him to take a charge and landed awkwardly on his back. Eric Maynor replaced Wall, who got his back stretched out by trainers before returning to the game in the fourth quarter.
Beal later drove inside but had his shot blocked by 76ers reserve Daniel Orton, setting up a Darius Morris layup on the other end that tied the game. Kevin Seraphin gave the Wizards the lead again with a baseline jumper. But after Turner made a short jumper to tie the game at 74, Seraphin got overaggressive in the low block and tried to force a turnaround that Orton blocked.
Fans at Verizon Center responded to the collapse – and Seraphin’s questionable shot – with boos.
“It was just us taking our foot off the pedal and just letting them come back into the game way too easily instead of just going out there and putting the game away,” Beal said. “Sometimes, I don’t think it’s other teams beating us. I think we just beat ourselves, making dumb decisions on both ends of the floor. We gave them way too many open chances and we didn’t convert on the other end and it hurt us.”
The effects of the damage could be felt for some time, because the Wizards’ schedule doesn’t get any easier this month. Collecting a win, or wins, against a Philadelphia team that is expected to stink this season should’ve been a prerequisite for a team with supposed playoff aspirations. Now, they have upcoming games against Miami, an improved Brooklyn, Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio.
The Wizards should be able to win games after leading by 12 with 6 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter – and by nine with about eight minutes left in fourth quarter – against a team led by a rookie coach and a rookie point guard. To eventually lose by seven points says a lot about how much the Wizards relented down the stretch.
Trying to distinguish the between team that is supposedly tanking to get a high draft pick and the one that is seeking a playoff berth was impossible on Friday. Neither team looked very good. The Wizards looked worse.
“It’s not embarrassing at all,” Wall said. “We got a lot of room for improvement, it’s just embarrassing to lose your home opener when you got a great chance to take over the lead and finish the game out.”