OKLAHOMA CITY – Still in his game shorts but shirtless, John Wall sat in front his locker room stall at Chesapeake Energy Arena shaking his head in frustration over his blown layup at the buzzer and some poor play calling late in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 106-105 overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
A few feet away, an angry Nene was also shaking his head, wrapped only in a towel and waiting to take a shower, even though he had been sent to the locker room 30 minutes earlier after picking up a costly second technical foul.
In the corner, Al Harrington sat with ice bags wrapped around both knees and served as a sounding board for both Wall and Nene. Wall told Harrington that he had to get fouled to miss a point-blank layup so badly. Nene told Harrington how replays would show that he didn’t do anything wrong when a fourth-quarter confrontation with Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook ended with both players getting ejected.
After taking in all of the explanations, Harrington attempted to make one of his own, after a game in which the Wizards had a 10-point lead with three minutes left in regulation and lost. Harrington mentioned some questionable shots and a lack of focus defensively, then he stopped himself.
“Forget all that. At the end of the day, we missed 13 free throws,” Harrington said. “We make half of those, we don’t even go to overtime.”
If the Wizards make one of those, they don’t go overtime. Better yet, if Marcin Gortat had made his only free throw attempt in overtime, they would’ve at least gone to double-overtime.
The Wizards led by five points at halftime, but could’ve been up more if not for nine missed free throws. Trevor Ariza was the worst offender in the first half, as he missed five attempts from the foul line, including a technical foul. Nene went an abysmal 4 of 10 from the stripe, showing greater proficiency from the field (5 for 6), with Thunder defenders all over him.
“I think that’s probably what killed us,” Bradley Beal said after scoring a career-high 34 points and matching his career-high with six made three-pointers. “Those really do hurt, and those points add up. Who knows? We could’ve won by 10 if make those, or just half of those. We got to stay focused.”
Nene’s ejection also slayed the Wizards. Nene has had some history with the Thunder, going back to his time with the Denver Nuggets when he routinely battled with Kendrick Perkins. On Sunday, Nene always seemed to be in the middle of trouble with Westbrook.
In the third quarter, Westbrook got past Wall and went up for a layup, but Nene sent the shot into the fourth row, shouted at Westbrook and got chest-to-forehead with him. Nene and Westbrook both were called for taunting technical fouls but it wouldn’t be the last time they got tangled up. Later in the period, Nene grabbed a rebound and Westbrook slapped at the ball from behind. Westbrook got the worst of the collision as he dropped to the floor, grabbing his head. Unconcerned, Nene ran up the floor, got a pass from Wall and found Gortat down low for a layup.
Westbrook was fuming for the rest of the night, which led to the critical sequence, with 3:19 remaining. Harrington slid in front of the out-of-control Westbrook to take a charge and fell to the floor. Nene reached down to help up Harrington, but Westbrook stood right over him and didn’t back away until Nene nudged him back. Westbrook hopped back and shoved Nene. Nene didn’t budge and laughed as Westbrook cried to the officials.
“I thought we had momentum at that point, if you want to say momentum shifted or whatever,” Harrington said of the ejection. “It may seem that way, but I don’t think it affected us any.”
Without Nene, the Wizards were missing another playmaker on the floor and Wall lost his grip on the game. After helping to fluster Westbrook with his pressure defense, Wall was unable to close out the game. He was called for a double-dribble, then took a long jumper and missed a three-pointer on consecutive possessions.
The Thunder took advantage of each miscue and cut the deficit to three when reserve Jeremy Lamb made a corner three-pointer. Harrington then missed a three-pointer and the Ibaka completed a 9-0 run with an emphatic dunk.
“When Nene and Russell got ejected, we were still up big. Just bad way of leading my team,” Wall said afterward. Not “getting those guys the ball in the right situation and taking advantage of the mismatch, when they were switching the big man on me. Taking tough shots instead of moving the ball and getting inside.”
Wall said the Wizards didn’t get comfortable. “You never feel like it’s over when you’ve got a guy like Kevin Durant on the other side.”
Beal had given the Wizards a 96-93 lead with 18.8 seconds remaining in regulation, but the Wizards didn’t do much to prevent Durant from getting the inbounds pace on the next possession and left Ariza on an island to defend him instead of doubling and forcing anyone else to beat them.
The Wizards also declined fouling Durant and sending him to the free throw line (but given their woes from the foul line, they probably wouldn’t want to engage in a free throw shooting contest). Durant quickly broke down Ariza off the dribble, pulled up and buried a cold-blooded three-pointer that caused the Wizards on the bench to cringed in stunned disbelief.
“I just needed a little space to get the shot off and I was able to shoot it,” Durant said.
Wall said he took “two bad shots” late and should’ve looked to get the ball more to Gortat, who scored four points in overtime when the Wizards finally exploited their advantage inside. Gortat could’ve had five points, but after giving the Wizards a 105-102 lead with a baseline drive with 80 seconds remaining, he missed the free throw.
“We just missed them,” Ariza said with a shrug, when asked about the missed free throws. “We got another game against Dallas on Tuesday. Can’t worry about that, just move on to the next one. I’m just happy that we fought. We didn’t give up. That’s does mean a lot for our team going forward.”
A win would’ve meant more. “We missed 13 free throws. Coming into a place like this, and going 13 for 26 and you still have a chance to win the game,” Wittman said. He told his players, “Let’s don’t lose our edge now. Just because you lose a tough one like this, you have to get back on the horse.”