Most of the talk surrounding the Washington Wizards‘ losses in the last two games of their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series with Indiana has (understandably) centered around the team’s pace and the production of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
But one of the biggest differences between Washington’s Game 1 victory and its two subsequent defeats was its bench. Behind Drew Gooden‘s 12-point, 13-rebound effort, the Wizards found a spark in their second unit to help them push past an Indiana defense built to wear down an opposing team’s starters. Entering Sunday’s Game 4 at Verizon Center, the Pacers bench has outscored the Wizards second unit, 63-41.
As the playoffs have worn on, Wizards Coach Randy Wittman has downsized his rotation. Al Harrington didn’t see his first action until garbage time in Game 3 while Gooden, Andre Miller, Trevor Booker and Martell Webster have found limited opportunities within a reserve unit that’s played 157 minutes compared with 187 minutes for Indana’s bench.
“Coach is going with heavy minutes with the starters and when we we get in there for the little amount of time, we’ve got to try to make the best of it,” said Miller, who’s averaging 3.7 points and zero assists in 8.7 minutes per game.
When the Wizards scored just one point during a seven-minute stretch in the third quarter of their Game 1 victory, it was Gooden who ignited a 5-0 run to start the fourth period with two points and two offensive boards. On Friday, with the Wizards in need of a similar spark during a 12-point third quarter, they instead found themselves overexerting themselves in trying to will the ball in the basket as player after player found the iron unkind.
“Sometimes we focus too much on making shots, and when things don’t go our way, we shut down a little bit,” said Nene, who finished 3 for 14 from the field. “They beating us by 10 points, 12 points, it look like we losing by 35 points.”
Toward the end of the regular season, the Wizards found a capable sixth man in Trevor Booker, who averaged 11.1 points in the month of April and 5.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in 24.2 minutes during their first-round series against Chicago. But against Indiana, Booker has been on a short leash and lacked confidence on the offense end, totaling just two points and five rebounds in 20 minutes of action through three games.
“I thought when Drew came in in Game 1 that gave us a big lift, especially rebounding,” Wittman said. “And in all three games, we’ve done a good job of rebounding the ball. That’s got to stay the same. So it’s really more I wanted to keep size on the floor so we can do a good job on the boards
That said, the focus against a team like the Pacers isn’t so much points and rebounds as it is second-chance opportunities, forced turnovers and transition baskets. Most of these intangibles are byproducts of pushing the tempo and ball movement, making for a brand of basketball that encourages a balanced effort from both Washington’s starters and reserves that will be key as the Wizards look to even the series.
“We just got to kick the ball up and move the ball from side to side,” Miller said following Friday’s 85-63 loss. “We found ourselves standing around a little bit playing pick and roll, played into their defense. We just got to continue move the ball but our defense needs to force turnovers too. It’s just a bad team effort. We got to make it up the next game.”