AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Kevin Seraphin played patty cake with the basketball as he tangled with Detroit Pistons forward and former Georgetown star Greg Monroe under the basket. He corralled the rebound, then panicked when Pistons reserve guard Will Bynum came to trap and thwart his attempt to pass the ball to Martell Webster.
Monroe knocked the ball off Seraphin’s knee and it rolled toward center court, where Seraphin again slapped at the ball and picked it up just as Bynum dove to the ground and Pistons forward Tony Mitchell closed in.
“I don’t know. I was trying to not lose ball,” Seraphin said, adding that he told himself, “Don’t lose the ball. That’s it.”
Seraphin barely held on. The ball slid up to Seraphin’s shoulder and he batted it to Webster. Webster swung the ball to Eric Maynor, who fed Bradley Beal in the corner for a three-pointer.
It almost seemed appropriate that the Wizards would need a ghastly, cringe-worthy and chaotic play to recover from a ghastly, cringe-worthy and chaotic start during their 99-96 loss on Tuesday to the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The final score didn’t reflect how discombobulated and uninterested the Wizards looked in the first half, when the Pistons dominated them and built a 24-point lead. Afterward, Randy Wittman didn’t want to talk about how his team rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter, or were in position to force overtime in the closing seconds until rookie Glen Rice Jr. airballed a three-pointer.
“We didn’t show up,” Wittman said. “Our guys, they think we can turn it on and off like a switch, we’re kidding ourselves. That’s what we did in that first half. Came out, didn’t play for each other and why we continue to fall back into that, I got to figure that out. That was an embarrassment. I was embarrassed with that effort in the first half. The second half, they played for each other, got after it and made it a game. It’s pretty black and white, but we will not, for whatever reason fully buy into that.”
In, by far, its worst first-half performance of the preseason, Washington got ambushed by a Pistons team that was without newcomers Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and career Wizard-killer Rodney Stuckey. The offense was stagnant but the defense was repugnant, as the Pistons were running and dunking without any resistance.
The Pistons shot 63.4 percent in the first half and led 65-41 when the rookie Mitchell caught an alley-oop from Bynum. And no, the Wizards weren’t holding back and making sure they’d have an overconfident foe when the two teams meet on Oct. 30 in the season opener.
“That was terrible basketball. We didn’t come out with no energy,” Wall said after recording zero assists in the loss. “We just wasn’t into the game. They got whatever they wanted. They really didn’t have to work hard for their baskets. We was both trying to see who could send a statement, preparing each other for next week. And I think they sent a statement to us.”
Wittman ripped into his players at halftime, but as Trevor Ariza said, “He didn’t really have much to say, but ‘We’re not playing well.’ Pretty much, we knew that already.”
The Wizards quickly cut the 22-point halftime deficit down to 12 in the third quarter, but Detroit pushed it back up to 18 and the run didn’t really pick up steam until Wittman went his second unit of Seraphin, Jan Vesely, Martell Webster, Eric Maynor, Garrett Temple and later Rice.
“At the first quarter, it wasn’t anybody focused, like we just missed the game at the beginning. Then after that, I guess we wake up and we start to play,” said Seraphin, whose clumsy ball-handling ended with Beal’s three-pointer which allowed them to enter the fourth quarter trailing by just 10.
Seraphin scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, showcasing his offensive repertoire with jump hooks and spot-up jumpers. But he also fought hard on defense, grabbed rebounds and even blocked a shot. The effort completed a turnaround that began after veteran Al Harrington screamed at Seraphin during a timeout in the first half for playing soft.
“He’s got to be tougher, man. I just didn’t like the way they was in there pushing us around like that. I just begged him to play a lot harder and a lot tougher,” said Harrington, who was informed that he would get the night off just before tip-off. “He did a good job. That’s one thing he can do is score the basketball. The biggest thing is just to get him going. I’m happy with the way he responded. He took his time in the post. He really dominated his matchup.”
Wittman has long made Seraphin his favorite tough-love target but his teammates were constantly shouting at him whenever he made an error. “That’s like some friends. When you do something wrong, they should be able to tell you. When you do something good, they tell you. Like Al, Al was on me at the beginning. After that, he just wake me up and I start to play.”
Maynor also had one his better games of the preseason, scoring eight points with a team-high five assists – and no turnovers. Through his first four games, Maynor had a difficult time connecting with his shots (6 of 26 shooting) and his passes (14 assists and 10 turnovers). But he finally found a decent rhythm and helped orchestrate the comeback.
“We was playing at a good pace. We was able to get stops and get out in transition. I thought that was good for us,” Maynor said. “Felt good. I’m going to look at that and keep moving forward.”
Maynor set up Seraphin on back-to-back baskets that tied the game at 83. Seraphin made a pretty fadeaway, then powered his way inside for a jump hook. “He did really good in the second half,” Nene said of Seraphin. “It was a good game to get his confidence back, to understand how important he is for the team, when he focus, when he prepare himself to play.
“But we can’t talk that much about this game, because it was embarrassing first half,” he said. “The good thing, we showed the potential we have if we play together. That’s what our coach said, too. It was a completely different game. It’s really hard to come back after, what? Twenty-five points. In the second half, we changed our attitude and we played really well.”
The Pistons answered to the Wizards’ run by scoring eight straight points, but Rice scored five points during a 13-7 run that brought them within 98-96 with 34.1 seconds left. But the Wizards couldn’t finish the comeback, with Rice’s missed three-pointer capping a night when the team missed 15 of 18 attempts from deep.
“I don’t care if it’s a preseason game, a practice, we’re out on the floor. We got to get better,” Wittman said. “You can write all about coming back, we can’t play that way. We wasted a whole half.”