WASHINGTON — If it’s a game against a team currently under .500, then it’s almost a given, at least for this season, that the Washington Wizards are sure to struggle mightily, as they’ve found themselves on the losing column more often than not when squaring off against teams below them in the NBA standings.
But tonight’s latest defeat left a particular sour taste in the Wizards’ collective mouth, as Washington committed 23 turnovers in the contest in losing 107-104 to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night. Though the game was not decided until Bradley Beal lost control of the basketball while going up for a game-tying three at the end of the game, the Wizards knew they lost control of the game much earlier, when they committed 14 turnovers in the second half and allowed the Jazz to score 61 second-half points.
“We have not had that type of turnover game in a long time,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks. “They did a good job of putting their hands on us and we turned the ball over too many times. With that being said, we still had a chance to win the game. Thirty-seven points in that third quarter and then 61 for the half. Talk about being a defensive team and we were in that first half, and then we stopped playing to our identity.”
Utah came into the game losing three in a row and six out of their last seven, but showed fight in turning an early nine-point deficit in the third quarter into an eight-point lead late in the same quarter, routinely converting Wizards’ mistakes into baskets. Down 66-57 midway through the third, the Jazz went on a 26-9, started by a three-pointer from rookie Donovan Mitchell. He later completed a spectacular alley-oop after a pass from Royce O’Neale to tie the game at 74 a few minutes later.
Center Ekpe Udoh, stepping in to the starting lineup due to injuries to both Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, scored 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter, while veteran reserve Joe Johnson scored eight of his 16 points in the third quarter, hitting two three-pointers during the extended run.
“That’s our thing. We play well when people kind of count us out the most,” said Mitchell, who also scored 16 points in the contest. “When adversity is the strongest. That has just been our character and that’s how we have been winning. Guys stepped up. Ekpe (Udoh) played his ass off today. Ricky (Rubio) did from the start of the game. We all collectively played defense well. It wasn’t like it was one guy here, one guy here and one quarter or this quarter, except for the first five minutes we played great defense. Joe Johnson especially getting a few steals and Royce (O’Neale) came in and did his thing. Everybody stepped up.”
Rubio led all Jazz players with 21 points, as he also added three three-pointers and three steals. His point guard counterpart, the Wizards’ John Wall, led all players in scoring with 35 points as he also put up 11 assists, six rebounds and three steals. However, Wall also committed eight of Washington’s 23 giveaways. Beal, Wall’s backcourt mate, chipped in with 23 points.
Just over a month ago, the Jazz defeated the Wizards 116-69 on Dec. 4 in Salt Lake City, a game that Washington played without Wall, who was out nursing a knee injury. Even with Wall back, Utah was able to complete the season sweep.
“That’s a tough one,” Beal said when asked if the prior matchup was in the players’ minds going into tonight’s rematch. “We weren’t necessarily thinking about the last game. I know, it is what it is. It’s kind of blatant how much we lost by, but this is a whole new game, whole new team. We had John [Wall] this game. They just beat us. Our effort was there, we felt like we made some plays, but we didn’t defend down the stretch like we were supposed to.”
The Wizards will look to make amends on Friday against another team that’s well below them in the standings, as the Orland Magic come into the nation’s capital for a Friday night contest.