– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
WASHINGTON — All throughout the fourth quarter of tonight’s contest, John Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest of the Washington Wizards starters were all laughs; Three-pointers in transition were splashing down and cuts to the basket were ending in dunks and alley-oops as the Wizards were breaking away in their contest against the Atlanta Hawks.
Surprisingly enough, Wall, Beal and Co. were enjoying themselves while on the bench, as Washington’s reserves scored all 37 points in the fourth quarter as the Wizards defeated the Atlanta Hawks 113-94 on Saturday night. Washington was able to go on cruise control, and its retooled bench had, by far, its best game of the season.
“Just a good win,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks. “Gave our starters time to rest in the fourth quarter. A Lot of good things, a lot of good play off the bench. Guys were moving the ball, looking for each other, and that’s progress. We’re going to hopefully continue to build off a game like tonight.”
Not only was Brooks able to give the starters just a rest, each of the quintet – Wall, Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat – had the same exact number of time spent on the court in the fourth quarter: zero minutes and zero seconds. Washington’s bench pushed a nine-point lead to begin the fourth quarter and, within six minutes of game time, extended that lead to the team’s largest of 25.
Much maligned throughout an otherwise successful campaign for Washington last season, the Wizards bench underwent a somewhat of an overhaul in the offseason, adding pieces like point guard Tim Frazier, shooting guard Jodie Meeks and swingman Mike Scott, with Scott coming over from Atlanta.
Meeks and Scott each scored eight points in the decisive fourth quarter, with the former hitting two three-pointers. Frazier assisted on five of the 14 field goals Washington made in the final stanza, as well as making his only shot of the quarter.
One of the holdovers from last season’s bench unit is Kelly Oubre Jr., and he clearly was the best player on the court in the final 12 minutes. Along with Meeks and Scott, Oubre Jr. also scored eight points in the quarter, adding five rebounds and an assist as well. Along with his play in the fourth, his defense when matched up with lightning-quick Atlanta point guard Dennis Schröder helped to hold him to 2-of-16 shooting in the game.
“You know, he’s a great runner when he wants to run,” said Brooks of Oubre Jr. “We just got to keep him running because of his ability to finish. But it all comes down to…I mean, I’ve been with him for a year. Between being solid defensively, he always has great games offensively and the game rewards him that way. Tonight was one of his best defensive games. He didn’t gamble, he didn’t get beat on backdoors. He just played solid basketball and he was terrific on offense.”
Despite the stellar play from the bench, the Wizards starters did have a big role in securing the victory. Beal led all scorers with 19 points while Morris had his best game of the season since returning from offseason hernia surgery, scoring 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Wall had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists, and his defense on Schröder for most of the game disrupted the Hawks’ ability to create off dribble penetration.
Atlanta did its best work tonight from the three-point line, hitting 14 of them to stay in the game. Taurean Prince led all Hawks scorers, making four of his six threes. Half of the Hawks’ three-pointers came from their bench, as Marco Belinelli drained four three-pointers on his way to 15 points and Malcolm Delaney made three threes on his way to 11 points.
But with Schröder misfiring, coming away with an impressive road win was going to be a tall order.
“I’m sure it was a little bit of both [Wizards’ defense and an off-shooting night],” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “He had some good looks that he’s been hitting at a high percentage this year. I’m sure their defense was good and active. Wall’s a good defender. Gortat’s a big that plays pick-and-roll defense well. We’ll look at the tape, and usually you find it’s a little bit of good defense and sometimes you missed a couple good looks that you need to have go down.”
Tonight was the first meeting between the teams since last season’s Eastern Conference first-round series, won by the Wizards in six games.