The Washington Wizards’ loss against the Toronto Raptors on Monday night was the latest edition in a long series of blown double-digit leads. Sadly, the Wizards fans have grown accustomed to this same story in the Wes Unseld Jr. era. Washington failed to hit a field goal in the final 7:30 of the game as the offense came to a halt. The Toronto Raptors came back from a 23-point deficit to win 111-107, as the Wizards matched the second-biggest blown lead in franchise history.
Unfortunately, this was not an uncommon experience for the Wizards this season. In fact, this was the third game in a row in which Washington allowed a huge fourth-quarter run to give up their lead and lose. It was a 25-6 run against the Charlotte Hornets, 20-5 against the Brooklyn Nets, and 21-1 against the Toronto Raptors, respectively.
The common factor in these brutal losses has been the late-game offense. The Wizards fail to create good looks when the game is restricted to the half-court and the opposing team is locked in defensively. Both the Raptors and the Nets were switching on defense in the fourth quarter. The unimaginative Washington offense couldn’t find any success in their isolations.
This is partly a roster construction problem as Washington doesn’t have an elite go-to scorer. It is also a coaching problem. The after-timeout plays by Wes Unseld Jr. were uninspiring and lineup choices were questionable.
Unseld Jr. has been closing games with small lineups that don’t include Daniel Gafford. This makes the Wizards defense especially vulnerable with leaky defenders in Jordan Poole and Tyus Jones on the perimeter and no rim protection behind them. Offensively, not having a screen-setting rim-rolling threat with size makes it difficult for the Wiz to create separation and get open looks. When the Toronto Raptors opted to close the game with a small-ball unit, Gafford could have made a lot of difference with his size, offensive rebounding, and shot-blocking.
The Wizards could have been 5-5 right now instead of 2-8 if they could hold onto fourth-quarter leads. In the big picture, this is fine on a development-focused, rebuilding season. This year is not about winning games. However, it’s also important not to keep building losing habits. Playing the right rotations, executing the right way, and having a good process are more important than results. Building a winning culture isn’t easy and the Washington Wizards clearly have a long way to go on that front.