Two minutes cost Wizards in loss to San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan, top, looks to pass over Washington Wizards forward Nene (42), from Brazil, in the second half of an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Washington. Duncan had 31 points and the Spurs won 125-118 in double overtime. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
I can’t believe this is happening, either. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Wizards certainly could’ve used Bradley Beal after Wednesday’s game against the visting Spurs extended beyond regulation, but his minutes restriction once again came back to haunt his team at the most inopportune time. They could’ve used a more favorable bounce when Nene came close to a steal near the end of the fourth quarter, but the ball landed in the hands of Tim Duncan. And they could’ve used some fresher legs for a finish in which they were a step slow and a tad sluggish against depleted but hardly diminished San Antonio.

After a 125-118 double-overtime loss to the Spurs extended their losing streak against that franchise to 16 games – the longest active skid against one team in the NBA – the Wizards could point to several miscues that contributed to the outcome. But most of those breakdowns and bad breaks wouldn’t have occurred if the Wizards had simply taken care of business when the game was clearly within their grasp.

Through a recent run in which they won four of six games, the Wizards avoided the extended lapses that allowed leads to vanish or deficits to expand. But after putting 62 points on the Spurs by halftime – the most allowed by San Antonio this season – that problem again reared its head during a two-minute stretch that proved costly for Washington.

“We lost the whole momentum of the game,” Coach Randy Wittman said.

During that period, the Wizards surrendered a 9-0 run in which Duncan made a hook shot, a fast-break layup and two free throws, and Danny Green made a three-pointer to get within 62-57. A dominant first-half performance was vanquished in roughly the time it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn. And anyone watching probably could’ve used some for an entertaining finish that the Wizards otherwise would’ve rather avoided.

“Coming out of the locker room, now it’s a dogfight,” Wittman said. “We just came out lackadaisical for whatever reason. We became undisciplined in the second half for whatever reason, and we have to fight that. That was disappointing.”

Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, a man with four championship rings, said afterward that the comeback victory was “one of the finest wins I’ve been associated with.” But he also admitted that he warned his team at halftime what to expect if they came out as sloppily as they had in the first two quarters, when the Wizards forced 13 turnovers, produced 15 fast-break points and led by 17.

“I told the team if we didn’t get into it real quickly, I was going to pull the plug,” Popovich said.

Popovich had an excuse to pack it in, because all-star point guard Tony Parker developed stiffness in his back and the Spurs have to play on Thursday in Brooklyn. Instead, the Wizards served as a five-man electric battery charger for San Antonio.

The Wizards’ offense to start the third quarter consisted of John Wall losing the ball to Nando de Colo, Bradley Beal missing a 17-foot jumper, Nene throwing away the ball to Cory Joseph, and Nene missing a layup.  Two turnovers and two missed shots that gave the Spurs enough confidence to pursue the steal.

Duncan scored 14 of his game-high 31 points in the third period, scoring with relative ease over Marcin Gortat and Nene to bring the Spurs within 72-69 before grabbing a seat. “I can personally speak for myself. I put myself in a bit of foul trouble; two early fouls in the third quarter and I lost my aggressiveness,” Gortat said. “I had a feeling if I hit him, he’s going to start getting easy calls and I slipped away, defensively. That’s why he destroyed me.”

The Spurs actually took the lead before the end of the period, with Parker’s replacement, Nando De Colo, leading the charge. De Colo scored all eight of his points in the quarter and made sure San Antonio was turnover free in the period. “They played harder than us in the second half,” Trevor Ariza said of the Spurs. “They hit us and we didn’t respond.”

The Wizards actually had a response, but couldn’t close after Ariza took a pass from Nene and dunked to give the team a 99-94 lead with 2 minutes 40 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But the Wizards wouldn’t score for the rest of the game. Beal appeared to get fouled on a three-pointer that could’ve put the game out of reach, but the Spurs answered with a three-pointer from Patty Mills (season-high 23 points). Then, after Nene tried to knock the ball away from Mills, Mills collected the carom and found Duncan wide open a jump hook that tied the game with 1:02 left.

“They were so calm and poised, like they was never down, like they controlled the game the whole time,” John Wall said of the Spurs, who finished the game with Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard watching from the sideline with Mills, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli on the floor.

On the other hand, the Wizards appeared frazzled and disorganized, especially in the two overtime periods, when Beal was forced to sit out because of a minute restriction that has been raised to about 34 minutes, although Wittman refused to acknowledge the actual time.

Beal has moved beyond using his playing time as an excuse for the Wizards losing and he again focused on other reasons for the defeat.

“I wish I had that last shot I had back, hopefully made that. But my teammates still had an opportunity to win,” Beal said. The Spurs “did a better job of playing harder. In the third quarter, they definitely came out aggressive and hit us first. We kind of just feel back on our heels and we lost our discipline on the defensive end and the offensive end. They ended up winning the game.”

Michael Lee has covered the Wizards and the NBA at the Washington Post since October 2004.
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