With a little less than a minute left in last night’s Game 5 between Washington and Atlanta, John Wall dribbled into some open space behind a Marcin Gortat screen and calmly sank a 21-foot jumpshot, giving the Wizards a four-point lead with 47 seconds left to play.
From this point, the Hawks probably were going to lose. Nothing against them personally, that’s just what tends to happen to a team that trails by two buckets with 47 seconds remaining in a game. They were probably going to lose, and they did lose, and so there’s probably no real reason to make a big deal out of what happened in the 47 seconds between Wall’s basket and the final horn. On the other hand, LOL, what the hell were the Hawks doing?
At first you couldn’t tell that the Hawks (apparently) spent the ensuing timeout huffing toluene fumes. They ran a quick play to get Paul Millsap the ball at the free-throw line with lead-footed Marcin Gortat defending him; Millsap drove to his left and—well, no, he didn’t quite take a good shot, but he did what has been his signature move this entire series because he is a Charmin-soft piss-baby whose real opponent on any given possession is the referees’ inclination to save the air in their lungs for respiration rather than whistling an endless series of play-acted “fouls”: He threw up some hot contested garbage and then spent an eternity performing the fucking Pietà from his back while the Wizards took the ball the other way. But, yes, sure, in the abstract, getting a shot off from near the basket within nine seconds was a fine idea.
Okay. So. Now, the Hawks needed to make up a two-possession deficit in about 39 seconds, and they did not have the ball, though they did have one timeout left. An NBA shot clock, if you’ll remember, is 24 seconds. 24 times two equals 48. You can see the problem, here.
The thing is, 39 seconds is a very short amount of time, if it actually elapses in 39 seconds. At the end of an NBA game, though, it can last an eternity, thanks to fouls and timeouts. It’s not inconceivable that the Hawks could have had three or four or five—hell, six!—possessions in the game’s final 39 seconds, if they’d fouled as soon as the Wizards rebounded Millsap’s miss, and continued fouling each time the Wizards took possession until the game ended or the Hawks took the lead. But even if the Hawks didn’t want to shift immediately into fouls-and-free-throws mode—if, as they later asserted, they liked their chances best in the potential transition opportunities that would come after defensive rebounds or Washington turnovers, rather than inbounding the ball after made free-throws—they still had to, had to, trap the ball and try to force the Wizards into a quick shot or a turnover.
Remember, they were probably going to lose anyway! They needed not one but two scores (or an insanely unlikely four-point play). Something unlikely was going to have to happen in order to give them a chance; either the Wizards would turn the ball over or they would miss free throws or the Hawks would hit a big shot or two they don’t normally make. They could either maximize their number of opportunities for fluky good fortune, by fouling to stop the clock, or they could maximize the odds of getting fluky good fortune on that one possession, by flying all over the place and trapping the ball and creating chaos and hoping it would break their way. They had to do one of these things. Had to.
On the other hand, if they’d done one or the other of those, they might have gotten a couple of lucky breaks and eked out a win, and then I would be extremely bummed out. Instead, God bless them, they did nothing.
My friends, this is bonkers. They let Wall dribble away the entire shot-clock without pressuring him at all, without doing a single thing to even marginally increase their odds of shortening the Wizards’ possession. Even if they didn’t want to trap, why not have Kent Bazemore put some pressure on him, poke at the ball a couple times, just in case? Why not at least try to make him throw one pass, just on the off chance he airmails it to Scotland? The worst possible outcome of that approach would be that it wouldn’t work and he’d burn up the entire shot-clock... which the Hawks apparently were comfortable letting him do anyway! This is fucking nuts and I am extremely into it!!!!!
“I think we wanted to get a stop and push it,” Hawks guard Dennis Schroder said afterward, by way of defending this complete insanity. “That’s exactly what we did.” No the hell it isn’t!
After voluntarily giving away more than half the remaining time in the game, the Hawks did, indeed, get a stop. Then they stood around and watched stiff old Gortat grab what I’m almost certain was the first clean two-handed offensive rebound he’s collected all series! Like a bunch of jamokes!
When poor Gortat, seemingly stunned into incoherence by this turn of events, shat out his brain and tried for (and bricked) a putback instead of swallowing the ball or passing it back out to the perimeter, this was a miraculous stroke of good fortune for the Hawks. They responded ... by passing the ball around the perimeter like the frickin’ Hickory Huskers in search of the ideal shot, while the game’s final moments ticked away, and still had their final timeout in the chamber when the horn sounded. Hmm, I know we’re down four with 10 seconds left in the most important game of our season so far, but coach says we’re supposed to make four passes before a shot goes up. It’s the most purely enjoyable sequence any NBA game has contained this year ... for me!!!!!!!
I’m gonna watch it like 200 more times today. The Hawks are butt.