It’s one of the league’s never-ending, late-game situation debates: When holding a three-point lead in the final seconds, should you foul or take your chances trying to defend the three-pointer?
Coach Flip Saunders has always found himself on one side: Foul.
“I don’t ever want guys to get three-point shots up,” Saunders said after the Wizards lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, 127-119, in double overtime late Wednesday night.
When the John Wall missed a free throw with 7.4 seconds remaining in overtime, the Clippers called timeout and Saunders gave his team instructions for what to expect. The Wizards were prepared for the Clippers to set a screen, possibly two, to free Eric Gordon -- and they did. The plan was for the Wizards to switch off the expected screen from Clippers center Chris Kaman and to foul, since they had a foul to give. Saunders also told his players not to leave their feet to give their opponent any clean looks at the basket.
But when the teams came out of the timeout, Kaman set a screen to get Gordon open at the three-point line and when Gordon got the ball, he pump faked and JaVale McGee left his feet.
“Coach told us not to jump on a three, because they needed a three to [tie],” said Maurice Evans, who started out guarding Gordon on the play. “I’m like okay, JaVale is long. He can use his length. He doesn’t even have to attempt a block.”
Gordon watched McGee fly by. Othyus Jeffers slid over but was too late as Gordon tied the game at 113 with a three-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining in overtime. “He made a helluva shot,” Saunders said of Gordon. “We had a foul to give. The idea was, if he got the ball, put it on the floor…we were going to switch it and foul him. If he got the ball, we didn’t want to jump at him to open anything up. We actually had pretty good defense, then JaVale, gave him a pump fake.”
But Saunders was quick to explain that the game wasn’t decided by one play, mentioning that there were several opportunities for the Wizards to close before Gordon’s shot. And, the Wizards had to make several plays coming back from down 12 points in the second half to even force overtime.
“We tried to execute, we tried to get through it, but we didn’t make the right reads,” Wall said. “It’s tough.”
After the game, Saunders even led the team through a short five-minute film session to let them see what mistakes they made. “You can’t just blame it on the last play,” Saunders said. “We had a foul to give. So we wanted to be extremely aggressive. But sometimes, with young guys, we haven’t been in that situation and let’s face the fact. We’ve won 17 games. It’s not like we’ve been in a lot of those types of situations.
“Hopefully, we’ll be in that situation again in Denver and we’ll learn from it.”