WASHINGTON — As odd as this might sound, a few kew members of Washington Wizards were concerned, albeit jokingly, with counting calories after their latest victory over one of the NBA’s best teams.
Walking in to the media room after a see-saw second half that saw the Wizards pull out a thrilling 122-119 win over the Toronto Raptors, head coach Scott Brooks started his postgame comments by succinctly summing up his feelings about the meat grinder he and his team just went through on the Capital One Arena floor.
“It’s a great way to lose weight.”
Whatever sweat off the forehead and inches from the waistline that were lost during the two hours on Thursday night, what the Wizards continue to gain is a resolve that this team will do more than just tread water after losing John Wall for an extended period of time due to left knee surgery, defeating the Thunder and now the Raptors in a span of 48 hours.
Normally, when a leading scorer is out for a period, the sports aphorism goes that the collective group has to make up for the points that’s out of the lineup. In the Wizards’ case, it’s more the points that Wall creates for others, as his season and career average in assists hovers just above nine per game. Tonight, Washington, led by fellow All-Star Bradley Beal, had assists on 30 of their 44 made field goals, and, even without Wall in the lineup, exhibited the ball movement that can make up for other deficiencies on the offensive end.
Washington was hungry to capitalize on its continued offensive execution, especially in the second half.
Figuratively speaking, they were hungry.
“Everybody eats, everybody eats, everybody eats. That’s our motto,” said Beal, who had six assists to go along with his 27 points. “Everybody eats when we move the ball. It starts on defense, if we’re all collectively on the same page defensively and we get out in transition, get some easy ones, then we’re moving it. That’s fun basketball. Everybody gets to touch it, everybody gets shots. It makes life easy. It just keeps the locker room close, it keeps our camaraderie going. At the same time, that’s the type of team we need to be to be successful.”
After a first half which saw the Raptors score 62 points while hitting 57 percent of their shots (25-of-44), Beal decided he was going to feed himself early and often in the third quarter, hitting his first four shots – including three three-pointers – en route to scoring 11 points in the first 2:40 of the third quarter to turn an eight-point deficit into a tie at 68.
Beal scored 25 of his 27 points in the second half, but his takeover of the game did not stop the ball movement that continued to unlock the Raptors’ defense, which allowed 67 points and 60 percent shooting (24-for-40) to the Wizards in the final 24 minutes.
“I think that is the next progression of a great player that we get to see night in and night out,” said Brooks about Beal’s performance tonight and his emergence as a superstar in the league. “He earned it and he has worked hard, and he has earned to be an All-Star and now he is taking his game to another level when he does not have a good game in the first half. I have told him many times, you can have a bad game for 35 minutes. The last five minutes of the game, you can be the star that you are – you can make plays for your teammates and that is what he does. He had six assists tonight. When you are not shooting the ball well, you have to open up the game for your teammates and he does that.”
Beal’s performance also evolved into one part an on-court tête-à-tête with another All-Star guard, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, who scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half. That number needed to be 26, though, especially after Lowry forced a steal and was fouled by Beal at halfcourt with 2.6 seconds remaining and Toronto down by two at 120-118.
Lowry missed the first free throw before making the second, and, after Beal was fouled and made two free throws with two seconds left, Otto Porter Jr. stole Toronto’s long inbounds pass to seal the win.
“[Washington] had four transition points in the first half and 16, I think, in the second half, so that was the difference in the game,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “They came out of the locker room running and we didn’t catch their speed so that was the difference in the first part of the third quarter.”
Without Wall, that same transition game was supposed to suffer, but the Wizards have done their best in circling the wagons and keeping their pace as breakneck as most league observers would expect from the team with him in the lineup.
“With John out of the game, we have to find other ways to score,” Brooks said. “John gets so many easy shots for our guys and we do not have that. We do not have his speed in transition, we do not have his breakability, playmaking on pick-and-roll plays and we have to make adjustments.”
Along with the hunger to do well without Wall, there’s another strong emotion that’s fueling the Wizards as they enter this important stretch of games: pride.
“I give our staff and our guys credit,” Brooks continued. “We know we are going to be without [Wall] for a stretch of games and we have met and we have talked and we are trying to figure out ways and how we can win and still be effective because we have a prideful group – guys that care, and we have enough, and my job is to find ways to keep moving the scoreboard and keep getting the defensive stops that we need.”