I guess if you want to pin the outcome of last night’s Game 7 on somebody—somebody other than repulsive unconscious three-bombing Canuck gorilla Kelly Olynyk—you can pin it on Scott Brooks and Ernie Grunfeld.
No time is a particularly great time to give 11 minutes to stiff-legged and range-free Ian Mahinmi, but a Game 7, in Boston, against a Celtics team whose offense revolves in large part around its rangy bigs’ ability to shoot and pass and move from the top of the key, is a particularly bad one. For the first eight of those disastrous minutes, spread over three quarters, Wizards fans and neutral observers on Twitter joined TNT’s Greg Anthony in clamoring for Brooks to replace Mahinmi with the comparably agile and versatile Jason Smith. Brooks did, eventually, insert Smith into the game ... alongside Mahinmi, for a stupefyingly awful three-minute stretch spanning the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, in which the Celtics outscored the Wizards 15-2 and turned a tie game into a crisis.
Given that the Wizards mostly controlled the game’s middle quarters until that point, it’s fair to say that stretch may have cost them a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, Brooks gave zero minutes to spry young Kelly Oubre Jr., whose athletic range and defensive versatility certainly were more called-for than Mahinmi’s, uh, tallness, against a Celtics offense that demands relentless switching and tireless defensive rotations in order to prevent a 48-minute fusillade of three-pointers. Hell, even mostly not-good rookie guard Tomáš Satoranský may have been a better choice than Mahinmi; neither of them can shoot, but Satoranský can guard two positions, which is two more than the lumbering Frenchman can when there aren’t any traditional paint-bound bigs for him to bang around with under the rim.
In the immediate aftermath, a narrative explaining the outcome congealed around John Wall, who, over the game’s final 19 minutes, missed all 11 of his shot attempts as his team got outscored by 14 points and lost. This morning, the Washington Post had it that the Wizards lost because, while Bradley Beal was busy having his best game of the playoffs, Wall came up empty—in a game in which he played 44 minutes and put up 18 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds, while also hounding Isaiah Thomas on defense for much of the night. To an extent, this is fair: If he could be the hero of Game 6 largely because of one shot that went in, he can be the goat of Game 7 because of 11 that didn’t.
But if, at the end of a playoff run in which he towed the Wizards within a few minutes of a trip to the conference finals with the postseason’s worst bench hanging from his neck, at the end of a season in which his team relied on its starting five more heavily than literally any other team in the league, Wall simply ran out of gas, then deficiencies of conditioning and/or toughness and/or, uh, “clutch”-ness make less convincing targets for blame than a roster that couldn’t provide an obvious answer to a question like “Should I rely on Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith for key minutes in the second half of a Game 7 on the road?” and instead stranded Scott Brooks with his worst impulses toward over-reliance on veteran stiffs.
All of which is to say, Ernie Grunfeld finally assembled a bench that could get somebody past the second round of the playoffs. Awesome!