Guest Writer – Max Keenan
You may be wondering what an eligible bachelor, living comfortably in his parents’ basement, does on a typical Wednesday night. Okay you probably aren’t wondering that, but since you are reading my article I feel I should be completely honest with ya’ll. I do live at home in my parents’ basement and typically my Wednesday nights are exactly how you are picturing them, unless you’re picturing something dirty, in which case please stop, I just watch television, eat my mom’s amazing home cooked dinner, and go to bed. Here’s the good news, the Wednesday night I’m writing about wasn’t my average Wednesday because on December 9th I decided to drag my butt to the Verizon Center to watch the Wizards take on the Houston Rockets. I took notes during every timeout on the floor to capture my observations, but I also tried to capture my feelings and emotions during the game. If everything goes according to plan, this article will be a coherent story about my time in the Phone Booth Wednesday, unlike my notes which seem like complete gibberish as I read through them now. As a Master of English, according to a fancy piece of paper, I hope I can provide a little class to the unique writing styles Ryan and Charlie have provided so far on Great Wall.
I somehow made it to my seat with ten minutes still left on the clock before tipoff, which is an incredible feat given my recent history of attending sporting events–for instance the last Redskins game I went to I showed up at half time…that’s not a good look! What was even more impressive is that I had two twenty four ounce beers and a chicken tender basket with me. Score! I settled in and began to follow John Wall around the court with my eyes as my hands stuffed fries into my mouth. Wall is so cool. Every Wizards fan knows this, but I feel obligated to say it every chance I get. Wall is so cool. My attention leaves Wall for a split second to check out some great stats about Brad Beal over the past three games on the jumbotron, stats I probably would have been told from the comfort of my own home on the pregame show…why did I come again? Then Wall and Beal start a shooting competition and I quickly remember why I’m here, Wall is so cool. Once the Wiz start layup lines and Beal and Wall half heartedly jog to the hoop and toss up uninspired, all be it super smooth, layups, I turned my attention to Houston’s side of the court. Boy was I glad I did that. I got to watch Harden and company attack the rim for some ferocious dunks and then Harden started taking threes like he was @BdotAdot5 himself out there doing his internet famous impersonations. It was awesome! Harden is pretty cool too, I guess, but not as cool as Wall.
Now that I had finished my chicken tenders I was ready for the game to start. This was going to be an awesome test for the Wiz. The Rockets have been utilizing pace and space as well as small ball for a lot longer than we have, I was anxious to see how we held up against a team much more comfortable at doing what we want to be doing. And after the first three minutes of the game it seemed like I was right to be anxious, Wittman had to call a timeout because Beverly was being a pest from baseline to baseline–as he tends to do, Brewer was getting out for easy layups–as he tends to do, and the Rockets looked way more at home playing up and down than we did. It didn’t help matters that Wall had a pretty drive only to watch the ball pop out of the hoop after it looked to be rolling in, a trend that plagued Wall on this night. Good time out, we weren’t ready to play, but now the game was on!
My bad, no it wasn’t. The next timeout came with four minutes left in the first quarter. The Rockets were now winning 20-13 and Harden had just scored the last five points for Houston, including a putback off his own miss. It seemed like Wall was really the only player bringing it tonight for the Wiz. His defense when he got switched on to Harden was inspiring, poking the ball away and then diving to the floor in an attempt to steal it. He also made a brilliant steal and dunk that got me out of my seat. An unsuspecting Beverly had the ball poked out of his hands by Wall on an inbounds pass and then Wall zoomed down the floor for a dunk. Wall is so cool. But I could get distracted talking about the Point God for 500 words so I’ll turn to something more important in my opinion.
To steal from my best friend and the cofounder of Great Wall, it’s time to talk about Otto Porter. I get how efficient he is playing all over the court and that’s great, but as much as I love stats and love reading them, my eyeball test is telling me Porter needs to play better, at least more consistent. It feels like after one right play Porter will make two or three bad ones. Porter knocked down a three and I was immediately put on alert. What’s next, what’s Porter going to do next, he made and a three so I was hopeful. But then Porter missed a layup very badly which turned into a Houston fastbreak, he then missed another easy layup and luckily got fouled only to make one of two free throws, and on the very next defensive possession he did not close out on Harden like I know Porter is capable of doing and Harden hits his first three of the game. I just wish he was more consistent. I’m sorry If I’m ignoring stats that say otherwise but in my opinion Wall and Beal need a third running mate that doesn’t, you know, dissapear after he makes a good play or two for the next five minutes.
At the conclusion of the first quarter the Wiz trailed 30-17 and all I could think about was how lucky it was I only spent fourteen dollars on a ticket, thank goodness I didn’t pay more to watch my team take a beating from the only team in the league to fire their coach this season. Beal wasn’t doing anything noteworthy, Harden was on his way to forty points, and John looked to be having an off night, needless to say I wasn’t very optimistic for the rest of the game. But then Otto got a couple offensive rebounds and scored off both of them and Beal finally made a jumper, just like that my optimism was back! It’s funny to me how drastically my emotions change when I watch a Wizards game, as a former college basketball player I have been trained never to get too high or too low during a game because basketball is all about runs. However, rational thought tends to escape the passionate sports fan. Crisis averted I thought to myself, we are going to at least make this a game!
No, no, no. Why did I get so optimistic? The rest of the second quarter was a slop-fest for the Wiz. It just doesn’t seem like Wall’s night, he had threes and layups rimming out left and right as well as a couple of bad turnovers where he tried to do too much. Harden finished the half with nineteen points, but the way he was scoring, with such ease, it felt like he had twenty five. The Rockets were up 56-47. I needed more beer… and maybe more food. Damnit Wizards stop forcing me to binge away my disappointment!
By the time I got back to my seat with more beer and a soft pretzel, I was able to convince myself that the second half would be different. Hey the Wiz are a second half team anyway right?? If John’s shots start falling and we keep getting the ball to Gortat–who had ten points at the half–we could close the gap before the end of the third. While the Wiz did close the gap from nine points to eight points by the first timeout of the third quarter, it did not seem likely that we could get it any closer than that. Harden was simply outplaying John and Brad, as any casual Wizards fan can tell you, if John and Brad are getting outplayed by one player on the other team, we have no chance to win. The only reason the lead was eight instead of eleven was that Dudley hit a much needed three before the timeout. I wrote in my notebook, “I’d love a run,” something I’m sure Wittman was praying for as the team left the huddle. Lo and behold… BOOM! Prayers answered, Wiz run! Almost entirely thanks to John Wall, the Point God, the Wallstar, this blog’s namesake. Defense, rebounds, assists, points, he makes me want to get a custom jersey with the number two but with “TEAM” stitched on the back instead of “WALL.” The Wiz scored seven points in a minute and twelve seconds, the score was now 62-61, the Rockets were up with 8:12 left to play in the third.
The Wiz run didn’t stop there though, over the next six minutes we would jump on top of the Rockets and take a 76-72 lead with 2:31 left to play in third. Wall is so cool. How many times can I write “Wall is doing it all,” seriously? How many times could I write it in a row before people stop reading this article? As redundant as I know I sound, it was so true! Wall responded to his statistically poor first half by refusing to let the Wiz roll over. With Wall controlling the tempo suddenly the Wiz looked like the seasoned pace and space team and Houston’s defense was starting to get exposed. The best play of this six minute stretch where the Wiz scored fifteen points occurred when Wall blocked a midrange shot right into Beal’s hands, Beal pushed the ball up the court, Wall racing with him, a helpless Marcus Thornton chose to prevent Beal from getting an easy layup, which Beal quickly recognized as an opportunity to assist his point guard for once… ALLEYOOP!
It’s amazing how fast Wall can go from blocking a shot, to catching up with Beal on the fastbreak. Finally the Phone Booth was rocking! Unfortunately Harden was single handedly exploiting our defense during this time, so as exciting as the Wiz run was, the Rockets were still right in the game. The Beard had twenty seven points and there was still two minutes left in the third!
While I thought Harden might get to thirty points by the end of the quarter, I wasn’t planning on him scoring eight points in two minutes. Harden finished the third with thirty five points! Holy crap. Before the season didn’t Beal say he wanted to be first team all defense? He can’t let the best shooting guard in the league come into his house and score thirty five through three if he wants to make first team all defense. Other than Harden teeing off on our defense, I was so proud of how the Wiz played. I didn’t think we had a chance in this game about five different times but somehow going into the fourth we were winning. Now all the Wiz needed to do was tighten up on D and execute on offense, shouldn’t be too difficult right?
So far so good. At the first media timeout of the fourth the Wiz were up 91-87 with 8:16 left to play. At this point I began to get way too nervous to take very many notes. Wall is so cool. He continued to amaze me with his play, it’s truly inspiring to see him in person, it’s just a damn shame he has to carry us by himself on so many nights. Wizards number two jerseys with “TEAM” on the back should be sold everywhere in DC, Wall has to know we appreciate what he’s doing, he has to know he can never leave us, we love you John!!! Wall is so cool. Beal has had a stinker up to this point, but as I always tell Charlie he is a gamer who always shows up in the fourth quarter and we need him to if we want to close out this winnable game.
Then an eight to two run by the Rockets over the next two minutes forced Wittman to call a timeout, the Wizards trailed 93-95. My notes after this run were so negative and R rated that I’ll have to paraphrase. I’m completely off the Wittman bandwagon, I just don’t understand his rotations and his new offense, neither seem to be working when we need them to the most. Take for example Wittman’s love affair with Garrett Temple, who is supposed to be a great defender, a hustle and glue guy that every team needs. Well he didn’t help us on defense in this two minute stretch where the Rockets scored eight points! Maybe we just don’t have the players for Wittman’s system to work, but I’m over him. He steadied our franchise after Flip didn’t work out, led us to the most postseason success we have had in decades, yet I feel like he has plateaued and in order for the Wiz to reach new heights we need to ditch the interim coach and hire someone better. But hey, that’s just one disgruntled fan’s opinion. As you can tell, my optimism was quickly starting to fade. I still believed if we just defended a little bit better and eliminated our turnovers we would win the game.
Unfortunately we didn’t do that. Although Wall was able to carry us to a tie at 99 all with three minutes left, he couldn’t win the game by himself. The Rockets won 109-103. Wall played amazing but if he had made a couple more shots down the stretch we probably win, Harden did make his shots in crunch time and his team won. I was so sad the last three minutes the only notes I took were F-bombs and “Fire Wittman.” Looking back on the game I can’t completely blame Wittman, although it is easy and fun to do. Guys just didn’t make winning plays down the stretch, but that shouldn’t have come as a surprise because the Wiz weren’t making winning plays all game. It’s ridiculous to think a team like the Wizards are going to suddenly start making all the plays necessary to win a game in the fourth quarter when they haven’t been doing so through the first three quarters, but that’s the nature of true fandom isn’t it? You always hope your team will figure it out when it matters most. Hopefully we are a better team when we play the Rockets in Houston. Oh and one last thing, Wall is still so freaking cool.
WHAT I ATE AND DRANK
I went with a Verizon Center staple, the chicken tender basket. The Phone Booth isn’t a stadium known for interesting food options, like Nationals Park is, but the chicken tender basket is a classic and goes great with beer. Which I drank a lot of. I also had a soft pretzel, but that was less than stellar. I think maybe it was because I got the pretzel at halftime, it seemed a little stale, I know people probably aren’t reading this for food advice for their trip to Verizon but if you like soft pretzels I suggest you get one as soon as you walk into the arena.
WHERE I SAT
I sat in section 104, which is right next to the Wizards tunnel. I was in row V though which meant I was more above the tunnel then next to it. Still, for fourteen dollars I’ll take a seat anywhere in the lower bowl! It was actually a really good view, I was just high enough that the basket didn’t really obstruct too much of my view and I also had a whole row to myself, it was nice to be able to stretch out.
WALL IS SO COOL.