The dagger was swift, 6.4 seconds of action that spiraled the Washington Wizards from elation after Paul Pierce drained a go-ahead three-pointer on the previous play to frustration as Al Horford swooped in for a putback, snatching a Game 5 victory from Washington’s clutches.

But a lot happened in those 6.4 seconds, and in the aftermath of the 82-81 defeat on Wednesday night, a lot of fingers have been pointed at various Wizards whom fans feel could have and should have prevented the events that unfolded. The most popular culprits:

A. Nene: The biggest player on the floor had position but could not come up with the rebound, allowing Horford to snatch the ball away.
B. Paul Pierce: He forced himself out of the play by reaching on Dennis Schroder’s drive and initially failed to box out Paul Millsap.
C. Randy Wittman: The last play was decided on an offensive rebound, leading some to wonder why the Wizards coach didn’t also have center Marcin Gortat on the floor.
D. #dcsports: Something like this was bound to happen, right?

So who’s to blame? Be sure to vote in our poll below. But first, as Warner Wolf would say, let’s go to the tape (h/t Ximo Pierto and NBA):

At first glance, the culprit appears to be Nene. He had position, using his burly, 250-pound frame to knock Millsap out of the way. And as the below tweet shows, the ball was headed into his hands for what would’ve been his seventh rebound of the night.

But based on Horford’s postgame account, had the play gone as Atlanta originally drew it up, neither he nor Nene was supposed to be in the paint.

“I wasn’t supposed to be involved in the play at all,” Horford said during his podium interview. “I was supposed to set a screen for Kyle [Korver], which I did. We put our trust in Dennis. He had a great drive. Then, when I saw the ball go up, I just ran in there. It was just a hustle play.”

Indeed, as seen below, Horford begins the play in the corner, positioning himself for a screen on Bradley Beal, who was guarding Korver, and more importantly, drawing Nene away from the basket. Meanwhile, Millsap is approaching at the top of the key for a pick on John Wall, who was guarding Schroder.


Rather than use Millsap’s screen, Schroder chose to drive right and into the lane past Wall. But even if Schroder had used the screen, he would have remained Wall’s responsibility, per a team policy Wittman made clear following a similar last-second breakdown in a March 25 loss to Indiana.

“I don’t trust these guys to do any switching,” an angry Wittman said afterward. “We never do any switching.”

None of the Wizards switched on the double-screen attempt, but as Schroder makes his move to the right, with Wall backpedaling in front of him, Pierce reaches out to swipe at the ball. The attempt, however, is futile. For one, Schroder has already passed Pierce and secondly, Schroder is dribbling the ball in his right hand, the opposite side from where Pierce is swiping (h/t NBA).

As Pierce does that, losing some of his balance in the process, Millsap tries to sneak in the lane behind Pierce for the potential rebound, just as Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer had told him:

“Paul went hard and Nene had to take care of Paul on a box out. That freed up Al to get the board. It was a lucky bounce. It was a heck of a play by Al.”

The same could be said for Wall, who managed to recover after being beat by Schroder and blocked the shot off the backboard. As the ball caroms off the glass, Nene gets into position, knocking over Millsap, and subsequently Pierce, in the process for what he likely thought was a clear path to the rebound.

That’s where things get a bit dicey. On one hand, Nene did both his job and Pierce’s job. He used his backside to clear space by bumping away the oncoming Millsap, who technically was Pierce’s defensive assignment. But in doing that, the onus then seemingly fell on Nene, who was now in position to make the game-saving rebound.

But as the play unfolded, Horford had also started striding into the lane, ultimately leaping up as the ball sailed back into play. Unaware of the whereabouts of his original assignment, perhaps Nene relaxed, only realizing once he leaned backward to try and corral the soaring ball that a hungry Horford was now in pursuit. By then, it was too late.

You know the rest — Horford gathers the ball as Nene falls down and Pierce and Wall are knocked backward, clearing space for the Hawks all-star to gently lay in the ball for the decisive bucket with 1.9 seconds to play. This, while maneuvering in a sea of four red Wizards jerseys, as seen below:

Nene did not speak to the media after the game and the Wizards did not practice Thursday. But Pierce had this to say not too long after the game:

“It happened so fast. Just Schroder drove the ball, saw a block, then it was like time was moving in slow motion. It was just one rebound. But that is all of us. We all got to do … I got to get in there and get my hands dirty and go up for the rebound. It is on all of us. There isn’t one any player that you can point a finger on that. Once the shot goes up, once the ball gets up, with the game on the line, we got to gang rebound. Lesson learned. We got to get ready for Game 6.”

Meantime, Wittman offered this Thursday afternoon during a teleconference with media members:

“I thought John made a great play on the ball. It was blocked. Then you had a melee of eight guys going to the board. Al’s the one that came down with it. That’s basically what happened. There’s not going to be calls made in situations like that. It’s every man for himself. It was free ball that came down into their hands.”

So who do you think is to blame for the breakdown on Atlanta’s last possession?

Here’s another angle for good measure:

What’s your call?
http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/embeded/812a27e6-0f88-43e4-9b8f-a4b3b908f6e5_pollEmbed?outputType=ssi

Who is to blame for allowing Al Horford's winning putback in Game 5?

This is a non-scientific user poll. Results are not statistically valid and cannot be assumed to reflect the views of Washington Post users as a group or the general population.

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