Wittman’s point guard was busy throwing passes to the wrong team. His starting front court was ineffective. And his team trailed by 16 points late in the third quarter against a team that arrived at Verizon Center on three-game losing streak. Still, despite those shortcomings, Ariza went on an improbable, one-man run and scored eight points in 49 seconds to put his team in position to win. But his final shot attempt came up short and the Wizards walked off the court, dejected and despondent.
“It didn’t boil down to that,” Wittman said of Ariza’s shot. “We got what we deserved. We didn’t deserve to win that game. We were more caught up in ourselves as individuals than the team. That’s the bottom line. We got guys that haven’t been in the rotation, complaining. The older guys trying to help them, they won’t listen. And that just tells me: ‘I’m worried about myself. I’m not worried about winning this game.’ ”
The Wizards (18-38) had their three-game winning streak snapped and lost for the fourth time this season — and sixth consecutive game overall — to the Pistons. They knew before tip-off that they wouldn’t have Nene on their side, but as the game unfolded, they realized that they would also have to find a way to do it without John Wall playing at his best.
Mired in a recent shooting slump, Wall made several careless passes and the offense was stagnant with him running the show. He finished with just six points on 3-for-9 shooting, committed seven turnovers and was outplayed by his backup, A.J. Price, who led the team with eight assists and scored nine points.
Wall has struggled from the floor in his past six games, shooting just 30.8 percent (20 for 65) from the floor. In three of the five games, since the all-star break, Wall has committed at least six turnovers. After the loss to Detroit, Wall said he didn’t have any problems with his left knee or any other health concerns.
“No health at all, just trying to play basketball and do my best to help my team win,” Wall said.
Assistant coach Don Newman spent considerable time speaking to Wall as he tied up his shorts and adjusted his knee pads in preparation for the start of the second half. Wall nodded and assistant Jerry Sichting patted him on the back.
But the pep talk didn’t go very far, because 30 seconds into the third period, Wall drove into the lane and had the ball poked away by Pistons forward Jason Maxiell. His final turnover came later in the period, when he drove inside and threw a pass that was too fast for Emeka Okafor, leading to a layup by Pistons point guard Brandon Knight on the end.
“They were great passes. It was just, some teammates couldn’t catch them and some got tipped away,” Wall said. “Just got to deal with it.”
Nene was forced to sit after a sore right shoulder injury that he suffered last week suddenly became too unbearable. He watched the game from the end of the bench. The Wizards’ vaunted defense, which ranks eighth in the NBA in efficiency, suffered without Nene as the team allowed the Pistons to shoot 54.2 percent. Knight led all scorers with 32 points and former Georgetown star Greg Monroe had 26 points and 11 rebounds.
“We wasn’t ready to play as a team,” Ariza said after scoring a team-high 22 points. “We didn’t play like we’ve been playing and in the NBA, you can’t do that. To lose any game, period, is tough. To get swept is even tougher. Tonight wasn’t a good night for our team.”
Wall gave the Wizards a 62-57 lead when lowered his head and drove to the basket, but Knight scored 10 points during a 21-2 run for the Pistons. After Wall’s botched pass to Okafor (15 points, five rebounds), Wittman called another timeout and replaced Wall with Price, but Knight added a three-pointer to give the Pistons a 78-64 lead.
Okafor finally silenced the run with a dunk, but Calderon fed Maxiell for an alley-oop dunk and the home fans started to boo.
“It’s bizarre to me,” Wittman said. “They didn’t want to be coached. It was more about playing time and shots, rather than: ‘What are we doing as a team? And how am I playing when I’m out there?’ It’s my job to decide who is deserving of playing out there and that’s what I’ll continue to do and that’s the only way I believe. And if you can’t handle that, you don’t agree with it, that’s what you get — a game like tonight. It wasn’t about the team. That’s what’s disappointing.”
Calderon ran the Pistons’ offense with precision, handing out 18 assists and scoring just six points. He had a layup that gave the Pistons a 96-87 lead with 69 seconds remaining. Ariza made two three-pointers, then stole a pass from Calderon. Pistons reserve Will Bynum was called for a clear-path foul, giving the Wizards two free throws and the ball with 12.3 seconds left. Ariza made both free throws and Wittman drew up a play for Bradley Beal (16 points), who drove, then dished out to Martell Webster. Webster batted the ball to Ariza and he rushed a three-pointer than barely touched the net.
“We didn’t do a good job against them at all this year,” Price said of the Pistons. “As a fan of the game, student of the game, they outplayed us. And [Wittman is] right, they outplayed us. He’s right, we didn’t deserve to win, but it would’ve been something if we did win.”