CHARLOTTE – As Andre Miller continued to find seams in the Charlotte Bobcats’ defense, Drew Gooden played aggressive defense and attacked the offensive glass, and Al Harrington stroked shots from long distance, the rumblings from the Wizards’ sideline became more pronounced.
The support from the sideline was wildly animated and entirely genuine as Coach Randy Wittman sat four-fifths of his starting unit in the second quarter. John Wall, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker used their rest time to serve as cheerleaders, hopping and hollering during a 36-10 run that turned a 10-point deficit into a 60-44 halftime lead that appeared to put the Wizards on the verge of locking up their first playoff berth since 2008.
“It was fun,” Gortat said of what he was watching. “These guys just competed, played hard. They executed well. They were shooting open shot, when they had open shot. They brought us back and they build the lead. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep that.”
Despite having front-row seats for an impressive second-quarter exhibition in which the Wizards shot 15 of 20 from the field, had 11 assists and just one turnover, none of it registered for how to finish out the game. Washington had 14 field goals, 10 assists and 10 turnovers in the second half and lost, 100-94. The loss also allowed the Bobcats to move within two games of the sixth seed with eight games remaining.
“We went away from what was making us successful,” Harrington said. “That second unit was mostly sharing the basketball and obviously, our first unit sat out that quarter and maybe that threw them off rhythm or whatever. We started the second half, the ball wasn’t flying around the way it usually was, even for them. We got into a couple of positions where we weren’t really sharing it like we normally do, turnovers and we put ourselves in a bad position.”
Wittman wasn’t exactly benching his starters for being ineffective in the second quarter; he just couldn’t go away from what was working on the floor. When Gooden eventually needed a breather after playing 15 consecutive minutes, Wittman initially called on Gortat until he changed his mind and went with Kevin Seraphin. Seraphin made a jump hook to put the Wizards up 59-44 late in the second quarter and inspire another spirited reaction from Wall, Gortat, Ariza and Garrett Temple.
“It was great,” Gooden said. “Coach stuck with that unit, we had the bench in with us and it was exciting. It was an exciting second quarter.”
Miller had eight assists in the quarter, finding Martell Webster for an alley-oop dunk and throwing it ahead for another fast break that ended with Webster making a spin move and a reverse layup. The 38-year-old Miller, who was brought in at the trade deadline to provide a quality backup for Wall, served a clinic in old-school efficiency as he elicited double-teams in the low post and repeatedly found his teammates before they knew they were open. He scored just four points but completely dominated the period while schooling the younger Kemba Walker and giving Wall the entire period off.
“That’s what Dre do. Every once in a while, he can turn back the hands of time and be the dominant point guard from that post position and pick teams apart and that’s what he was doing,” Harrington said. “It was fun, it was all about us defending and it propelled us into good offense. When you play like that and the ball’s movement, it’s impossible to defend a team.”
For some reason, though, the Wizards didn’t try to resemble that style of play in the second half when they appeared too content with the lead, let Charlotte hang around and then collapsed.
Webster made a three-pointer to give the Wizards an 80-66 lead, but Charlotte went on a 15-6 run to get within 86-81 when Al Jefferson made a layup. Bradley Beal responded by getting fouled shooting a three-pointer and making a free throw to complete the rare four-point play, but the Bobcats would stage another rally.
Charlotte scored the next seven points, getting within 90-88 when reserve Chris Douglas-Roberts converted a three-point play. Beal answered with a jumper, but the Bobcats scored the next nine points, taking a 97-92 lead when Walker drove around Wall for a layup and put the game away.
The Bobcats had a decided edge from the foul line, taking 34 free throws compared to just 13 for the Wizards. “From the looks of it, they were more aggressive getting to the free throw line,” said Wall, who was fined $15,000 for directing inappropriate comments toward the officials after the Wizards lost to Charlotte two weeks ago.
But the Wizards can’t blame the loss on officiating, especially when they stopped playing aggressively after building a comfortable lead. Instead of taking the ball to the basket and trying to initiate contact, the Wizards were content taking jumpers. The Wizards only attempted three free throws in the second half, making one.
“It’s just experience,” Gortat said, using a similar refrain after another deflating loss. “It’s a different story to be a talented team, but being an experienced team was two totally different things. Lack of experience today, came out and that’s how you lose the game. We should execute better in the end, stay sharp in everything we do.”
The Wizards squandered an opportunity to secure a playoff spot for the first time in six years and the New York Knicks defeated the Utah Jazz to keep Washington’s magic number at one.
“We thought tonight was our night to come out, but that is the NBA. It is back to the drawing board and have a good practice and hope to beat Boston at home” on Wednesday, Harrington said. “It is what it is. The chips are going fall where they may. All we can do is what we are supposed to do and try to win as many of these games we have left.”