Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It’s Only Green Lights and Alrights for Wheeling Wizards

“The game’s to 21 – 11’s a shutout.”

Does anyone else recall that sort of condition that we’d sometimes put on our childhood competitions – ping pong, air hockey, hoops, whatever?

Even as kids we seemed to know that playing out the string in a one-sided match quickly becomes more chore than joy.

So, should “three” be a shutout in a seven-game series? (Should the team trailing have the option to resign?)

Of course, such a thing could never happen in the NBA – or any other pro sport. It fits neither the business model of any league nor the mental make-up of any of these athletes – except perhaps Rajon Rondo these days.

History reveals to us that NBA teams who begin a seven-game series 2-0 eventually advance an almost unbelievable 94 percent of the time – a good omen for the four teams  (three more could turn the trick tonight) who’ve held serve at home thus far.

Even better omen for the Washington Wizards, who hold the same advantage courtesy of two road triumphs. (Indeed, the Wiz have now won eight of their last nine playoff “roadies.”)

Unlike Game 1, in which Paul Pierce and the veteran bigs did the heavy lifting, it was the young bucks, particularly Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr, who led the way.

Also unlike Game 1, two of the better offensive units during the season showed us why. Each team improved both its shooting percentage and rate of conversion by more than 10 percent over the first game’s lackluster numbers.

The strategic decision to get big center Jonas Valancuinas more involved offensively and some less-than-tepid early Wizard shooting got the Raptors out to a quick 12-2 advantage.

At that point, the Wizards decided to enter the fray and slowly worked their way back into the game. They’d gotten within five (31-26) by the end of a lively first quarter, and drew even midway through the second.

Beal was the man of the hour. He missed a three-pointer on the team’s opening and closing possessions of the second quarter. In between, he converted seven consecutive field goal attempts, tallying 20 of his game high 28 points prior to the intermission. By then, the Wizards had gained control at 60-49.

Sensing desperation, Toronto made its run early, slicing the margin to 63-61. But on the heels of a momentum-breaking time-out, the Wizards converted on their next four possessions, sparking a 10-0 run and restoring a comfortable lead that would peak at 29 and never again reach a single digit.

Wizard coach Randy Wittman had been equally persuasive with his troops during an early first-quarter time-out as they clicked on six straight trips down the floor following that little strategy session.

Washington’s Under-25’s – John Wall, Beal and Porter – combined for 69 points, 20 assists (17 for Wall) and 15 rebounds (9 for Porter).

Toronto All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, again hampered with foul trouble, misfired on seven of ten shots in just 27 minutes.

The Series resumes Friday in DC – unless Toronto decides two is a shutout. Before pulling that trigger, the Raptors should consider one final piece of recent history: the Wizards lost four of their five home playoff games in 2014.