Yes, John Wall finished out Game 7 of the Wizards’ series against the Celtics by missing his last 11 shots, but at least on TV it looked clear: He didn’t have anything left. Wall had averaged nearly 40 minutes of playing time for 13 straight postseason games, He’d played 44 minutes in Game 7, and by the end of the fourth quarter, it was all gone. His shots fell short. He kept settling for long jumpers. He looked like a man with nothing left to give.
That’s not John Wall’s fault. He’s only a human being.
If Wizards fans want to rue something today, it should be the fact that there was no one to let Wall catch his breath.
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The Wizards bench was always going to be the thing that bit them this postseason; it was only a matter of time. The Wizards’ starting five was among the best of any unit this postseason (you could make an argument that the group was the best), but after that, there was little to nothing. Bojan Bogdanovic and Ian Mahinmi are fine players, but the two were never going to be able to go toe-to-toe with the Celtics’ deep bench, which included unlikely Game 7 hero Kelly Olynyk.
The one man on the Wizards bench who looked like a difference maker, Kelly Oubre, logged zero minutes in Game 7, with Wizards coach Scott Brooks apparently deciding the young player wasn’t ready for the moment after his suspension earlier in the series for shoving Olynyk. Or maybe it was for another reason. Actually, yeah: Why didn’t Oubre play in Game 7?
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Yes, some of this blame has to lie with Brooks. While he wasn’t gifted a talented bench, he also never worked that hard to develop it as the season progressed. There’s a belief with some NBA teams that your rotation is going to be eight guys come playoff time, so why worry about the other players on the roster? As the Celtics showed in this series, though, you don’t always know who the eight guys are going to be. Brad Stevens gave Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown plenty of chances this season, even though there were some absolutely rough patches. They turned into vital pieces in the series.
Olynyk stayed in the rotation all year despite struggles on defense and the glass … when Amir Johnson couldn’t raise his game in this series, Olynyk stepped up and then was the Game 7 hero. Stevens gave himself options and outs … by playing 11 and even 12 guys all year, he had players who had good game experience and were sharp and ready to go when the situation presented itself and he needed them.
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Brooks and the Wizards’ front office didn’t give themselves any outs. With Oubre sentenced to the bench and Mahinmi/Bogdanovic ineffective, they had … Brandon Jennings, who played five minutes in Game 7 and didn’t score a basket, and Jason Smith, who played three minutes in Game 7. Smith’s plus-minus was -13(!) in those three minutes.
The Wizards didn’t go and get themselves a Lou Williams at the trade deadline, or anyone, really, who could contribute when they needed them the most. Brooks’ number of players he trusted dwindled and dwindled until it was really just the starting five, Bogdanovic and Mahinmi, and when those two couldn’t step up in Game 7, he had nowhere to go. He relied on Beal and Wall to carry them, again, and in the closing minutes, they were gassed.
In stepped a fresh Olynyk and Marcus Smart, who put the game away for the Celtics. That was the series.
Bob DeChiaraBob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
This is all sort of ridiculous because the two teams were battling to most likely get steamrolled by LeBron James and the Cavaliers, but it should be something the Wizards really look long and hard at going into next season. Brooks has to get over his habit of playing only his best players and not working through the growing pains with his bench. (This was a mark on him in Oklahoma City as well.)
The Wizards have to give him more, of course. I’m sure that’s the first thing they’ll address this offseason. Wall is too good. The entire Wizards starting five is too good. They just need some help, a little help, so they can rest up enough to be at their best at the end of games. If they don’t, Wall is going to keep being blamed for this stuff. That isn’t fair.