(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)
We’ve been on hotter streaks frankly. By we, I mean DC sports fans. About two weeks ago the Washington Capitals were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Islanders. The world champion Washington Nationals don’t look the same. It doesn’t seem like there will be a drastic turnaround to their season like there was last year. The Washington Football Team, well that’s still their name so that should tell you enough. However, I want to go in another direction with this piece.
The Washington Wizards are a source of agony, but you never know what form of agony that will be. Will you have your heart crushed so close to the Eastern Conference Finals or will you suck the whole year with no clear vision of hope moving forward? This is why the Washington Wizards are the forgotten heartbreak team of Washington DC.
*written and contributed by Ian Alvano and John Ellis*
Let’s start with this year. I know there was the inability to get past Lebron in the mid 2000’s but the Wizards weren’t contenders then. 2013-2014 was the first playoff run the Wizards had in the Wall-Beal era. The Wizards get past the Bulls in five to start off the playoffs. A pesky Bulls team with Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. Isn’t it weird to think about those two on the Bulls? The only problem the Wizards had with them was an early scuffle, other than that the Wizards cruise. We move.
Paul George and the Pacers wait in the next round. Paul George is starting to play like a superstar and the Wizards drop this one in six games. In game six the Wizards get down early. Bradley Beal heats up while George begins to finally cool down. Wizards cut the lead to under five. A late Bradley Beal heat check doesn’t come close to going in and the Verizon Center (now Capital One Arena) loses its energy. Wizards can’t claw this one back and are eliminated. Enter heartbreak. Cue the sad music. However, this one doesn’t sting too much considering Wall and Beal are so young with a bright future ahead. Things will easily get better in the future right? Man, things would not get close to being any easier in the future.
After the disappointment to the Pacers, the Wizards respond with a productive regular season. They finish second in the division and conclude the year 46-36, an impressive benchmark. Head coach, Randy Wittman has a solid year and Toronto waits for him in the first round. The Wizards look marvelous in the first round. Toronto gets swept. Everyone is firing on all cylinders, even in hostile territory at Toronto. Wizards get a little bit of a layoff before they figure out that they draw the Atlanta Hawks next series. Let me tell you to this day, this series still stings. Games one and two in Atlanta are split and the teams fly back to DC all tied up. In Game 3, the Wizards lead practically the whole time. They end up blowing a 21-point lead and the Hawks storm back to tie it late in the game. This is where this series gets memorable.
Veteran, Paul Pierce gets the rock as time is expiring. He backs into Dennis Schröder and everyone in the building knows Pierce isn’t giving this one up. As Pierce fades away, he gets swarmed. Doesn’t matter. That beautiful ball hits the glass as time runs out. The city goes nuts. The Wizards are up two games to one. John Wall didn’t even play this game because of a hand injury. Pierce gave the city hope and a real belief that would soon be crushed. The Hawks respond well in game 4 and scratch out a win. The series is tied again, this time going back to Atlanta.
Game 5 still keeps me up at night. This game was very different from the other ones. Buckets were hard to come by. John Wall is back for this game as well. However, it’s Pierce again late that proved to be the hero, or so we thought. Pierce makes a massive three under a minute to give the Wizards the lead. He infamously is chirping, “Series, Series, Series”, at the Hawks bench. With the last possession of the game the Hawks have the last shot. Kyle Korver inbounds the ball to Shröder. With revenge on his mind the German point guard drives right to the basket. His contested lay-up is blocked by John Wall. That ball was extra stubborn that summer night in Atlanta. Off the block, the ball lands in Al Horford’s hands. The Atlanta center is under the hoop and puts it in with 1.9 seconds to play. The Wizards don’t have a timeout and John Wall launches a prayer that misses. Hawks take Game 5. The Hawks now lead 3-2.
We all know the tale, the Wizards lose game 6. This game doesn’t hurt as much as the last. Game six only teases you and shows what could have been. In a back and forth matchup consisting of another late Paul Pierce three to keep the Wizards in it, the Wizards find themselves on the verge of elimination. With 6.4 seconds, the ball is thrown into John Wall, who can’t make himself free. Wall tosses it to Pierce, who euro-steps past Kyle Korver on the three-point line. Pierce shoots as time expires (again). Swish. The ball goes in and it’s absolute madness. The Wizards forced overtime and have a shot to win this game. If only life was that easy. By milliseconds, are Pierce’s fingers touching the ball as he shoots it. The basket doesn’t count. Pierce was still touching the ball as time expired. That’s how the season ends. Wow. That’s really the only justifiable response to your season ending like that. All for nothing. Drama the whole way, just to be punched in the gut. I’m being honest this game doesn’t hurt now, it just teases me.
A new season could not have arrived fast enough for the Wizards. After a disappointing 2015-16 season ending with the Wizards missing the playoffs at 41-41. John Wall and Bradley Beal are ready to prove to everyone that there are no chemistry issues. The rest of the core, including trade-deadline acquisition of forward Bojan Bogdanović and late season addition of veteran point guard Brandon Jennings are ready to move back into the playoff picture at full health.
The regular season wraps up with the Wizards record at 49-33, locking up the fourth seed, after starting the season at a disgusting 2-8. No better way than to start the playoffs against the team that ousted the Wizards in their last playoff appearance, the Atlanta Hawks. The series is split two games a piece as the home team won each of the four games. The Wizards never look back and take the next two games handily and the pesky Hawks are finally in the rearview mirror. Enter, the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics are the number one seed in the east, but that did not scare this Wizards team. The two teams were destined to meet as there was a rivalry budding. The two teams split the season series, but with a great amount of drama. John Wall and Celtics forward Jae Crowder got in each other’s faces in one of the games. The Wizards wore all black as they walked into their January 24 meeting, as they said it represented Boston’s funeral.
The Wizards jumped out to double digit leads in both games one and two, but they could not hold onto either leads at TD Garden. Following game two with Celtics starting point guard, Isaiah Thomas scoring 53, the Celtics felt confident about a possible sweep. Right then is where the sin of overlooking an opponent was committed. They must have forgotten John Wall was not too shabby in game 2 either, dropping 40 points and 13 assists. The Wizards knew they were not going to lose at home. Game three starts, and the Verizon Center is roaring as the Wizards jump out to another double digit lead, and this time they knew the crowd had their backs. Near the beginning of the second quarter, the hatred between the two teams was evident when Wizards’ forward, Kelly Oubre Jr. had enough of Celtics’ big Kelly Olynyk’s antics with his illegal screens and elbow throws, as Oubre took the hit from the big man, preceded to get up and charge at Olynyk, causing him to drop to the floor. Oubre Jr. got ejected, and suspended the following game, but the energy that came from the Wizards after was exactly what the fans were waiting for. The Wizards win both home games and the series is tied up 2-2. The series returns to Boston and the Celtics win game 5.
Game 6 in the Wizards’ house. Game 6 served as a ghost of the past as the Wizards last two playoff runs ended in that game, and they were ready to exorcise that demon. Fast-forward to the final 7.7 seconds of the game. The Wizards are down 89-91 with a side-out. The entire District is on their feet with concern that their team was about to lose in a dreaded Game 6. Otto Porter Jr. inbounds the ball to John Wall as he sizes up Boston’s best defender in guard Avery Bradley. Wall pulls up for three, as the whole arena watched the shot in the air, which felt like an eternity, praying for a bucket. He sinks it with 3.5 seconds on the clock as the top was blown off the top of the Verizon Center with so much joy and emotion. Isaiah Thomas gets the ball on the other end with 1.7 on the clock and gets off a three and misses it. The raw emotion John Wall showed is something that this whole city will never forget as he stood on the announcer’s table and yelled, “THIS IS MY CITY”!
Game 7 has arrived. The Wizards march into Boston against a hostile crowd. The game was back and forth the whole way, but the Celtics closed out the game winning by 10. The dreaded Olynyk scoring 26 on the Wizards is something that will forever haunt Wizards’ fans. To this day, there is not a single time where the whole arena does not heckle and boo Olynyk as loud as possible. All the joy and passion from DC leading up to Game 7 tasted oh so so sweet, just to lose in even more heartbreaking fashion. With mixed emotions as if the Wizards were going to be even better the next year, or if that is all the gas they had left in the tank.
This playoff recap won’t go as in depth as the previous ones. This was probably the weakest of the Wizards team that were mentioned above. They snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed. There they drew the number one seed Toronto Raptors who had the best regular season record in the east. The Wizards were outmatched in this series, I won’t sugarcoat it. However, this first round tilt was quite close for a while and had specific points where the series could have gone either way. The first two games in Toronto were hard for Washington. They struggled to keep it close and went back home down two games. Just when everyone was calling for a sweep, the Wizards would make you believe. They won two games at home in a flash to even the series. Nobody quite believed in this team until game 4.
In a dogfight of a game, Bradley Beal fouls out late in game four. This is where you would think that the Wizards unravel. This didn’t happen. They stuck together and closed out the Raptors that night. They would cross the international border tied at two games apiece. Extremely characteristically, the Wizards would lose in six. There were moments in game 5 where the Wizards could have really scared this Toronto team. For example, the Wizards saw a lead crumble before their eyes with Toronto’s hot shooting. Who knows what could have been if the Wizards win this game. Maybe they somehow could have finished the Raptors off in an elimination game in DC. Maybe a series win somehow stopped John Wall from getting hurt the next year. I know this is all unlikely, but this is the series of “what ifs” with the Wizards.
In reality, the Wizards would lose game 5 and 6 to the Raptors and that would be all she wrote. Another playoff series, another disappointment.
Does this make sense now? Do people remember these times or do they just get forgotten with recent DC sports success. After the Wizards most recent playoff exit, there have been injuries, fired front office figures, numerous superstar trade rumors. John Wall hasn’t played a game in a Wizards uniform since December 26, 2018. Bradley Beal has suffered these last two years. Transforming himself into a superstar just to keep his team above water. Of course optimism remains for next year with Beal and Wall finally playing together again, with both coming to the end of the primes of their respective careers. The optimism of the future gets crushed with the history of the past. It’s almost like Wizards fans know what the inevitable looks like. Playoff heartbreak that kills you at first but might be forgotten down the line. Well, this is your refresher to realize how much the Wizards mess with your heart and soul. Game 5 in Atlanta and game 7 in Boston should prove that case. Do you now understand why this “pain” we feel as Wizards supporters is incurable?
(John Ellis also contributed to this article)