Just 10 days after completing one of the most impressive stretches in club history, the Washington Wizards took the floor on Tuesday night looking to avoid a mini crisis. Despite the juggernaut of an opponent lining up across from them at the Verizon Center, there’s nothing like playing the best to bring out the best.
Washington did just that in making another statement across NBA circles. Against the Golden State Warriors, the All-Star traveling road show with the 50-9 record, the Wizards jumped on them like their opponents have done to teams the past two-plus seasons; a 40-point first quarter signaled the Wizards’ intentions that they weren’t intimidated, while building a 19-point lead in the second quarter was a sign that the Washington wanted to dominate the game instead of just win it. In the end, even with the Warriors fighting back like the champions that they have been, Washington’s crisis – however minor it may have been – was officially averted with a 112-108 win over the Warriors to win their first game after the All-Star Break and avoid just its second three-game losing streak of the season.
After being saddled with foul trouble early in Washington’s loss to Utah on Sunday, Bradley Beal made sure to have an impact early and often to begin the game against another of the Western Conference’s best. Hitting from all over the court early, Beal scored 16 first-quarter points, hitting 6-of-7 from the field and making all of his three 3-point attempts, sparking the Wizards to its highest-scoring first quarter of the season.
“I always say the games close to the All-Star Break are trap games,” Beal said in the locker room afterward. “You are still stuck on break or you haven’t been working out for a few days, so there is a little lapse. You have to get back into rhythm. This is a game we have to show up. We gave up two that we feel like we should have won and this is a must-win situation for us. We wanted to get back on track and this is a great team to do it against and a great start for us.”
Beal’s start was exactly what was needed for Washington to get the jump on the Warriors, even if his scoring dissipated for the final three stanzas. He ended up with 25 points.
“I think that first quarter, in the first 18 minutes, we were just locked in,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks. “We were making shots and extra passing. Defensively, we were all over the floor and we were scrambling for multiple efforts. Brad was a big part of that. He’s a knock-down shooter, he’s a knock-down playmaker, he can take it to the basket. He has it all, and he’s going to continue to display that and get better every year. We just keep challenging him to make plays.”
Brooks continued: “When you’re that type of talented playmaker, you can’t worry about a quarter, or two quarters, you just have to keep doing the right things. It always ends up going well for you, unless you have a bad night.”
The task was made easier for the Wizards when Warriors forward Kevin Durant left the game less than two minutes in, as he hyperextended his left knee when teammate Zaza Pachulia fell into Durant after being thrown down to the ground and fouled by Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Durant went in for an MRI did not return, leaving Golden State shorthanded for the rest of the evening on night when they were playing the second of a back-to-back.
“It is not going to be a very happy locker room at all,” said Stephen Curry, who ended up with 25 points. “Obviously, we are worried about KD, want to make sure he is alright, and you hate losing, so it’s a mixture of everything.”
Once down 19 points, Golden State engineered a furious comeback, holding the Wizards to a 3-of-17 shooting stretch between the second and third quarters while chipping away at the lead and closing the gap to 12 at the half. From there, Curry scored 15 third-quarter points – including hitting his only two three-pointers of the game – to help pull the Warriors even at 85 starting the final 12 minutes of play.
Neither team could pull away in a fourth quarter that featured 10 lead changes, but the pivotal play proved to be Otto Porter’s offensive rebound after a John Wall miss with the game tied at 108. Porter was fouled in the process with 17 seconds remaining, and he hit both free throws, giving the Wizards a two-point lead. That allowed the Warriors one more chance, which allowed the 20,000-plus at the Verizon Center to have unwanted flashbacks.
Earlier in the month, the game’s biggest superstar, LeBron James, hit a miracle three-pointer for the Cavaliers just before the buzzer to force overtime in another marquee matchup at the Verizon Center. The sense of déjà vu was in the air as Curry dribbled high above the key and let go of a 30-footer with about five seconds remaining. It hit off the back rim, however, and after Markieff Morris hit two free throws after he grabbed Curry’s miss and was fouled, the celebration was on.
“We made a few more plays than them down the stretch,” said Brooks. “It was obviously a hard-fought game. Both teams were clawing and grabbing and punching each other trying to win the game. I’m glad we made a few more plays. [Markieff Morris] stepped up and made two big free throws. Otto [Porter] had a big rebound and we got a big stop. Brad [Beal] was Brad, just like he always plays. John [Wall] had 19 assists, which is just an incredible performance. He didn’t shoot the ball well but really controlled the game with his passing.”
Curry as well as backcourt mate Klay Thompson struggled shooting, going a combined 14-of-40 from the field. Draymond Green almost recorded a triple-double with 14 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds, while Shaun Livingston, playing an even bigger role with the loss of Durant, had 14 points.
“It was a great response,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr about his team coming back from 19 points down to, at one point, take a three-point lead. “It was a hell of a basketball game. The fans got their monies worth. It was a great competition and I liked how we came back after we were kind of thrown for a loop early on. We had to change all of our rotations and I thought our guys, once we took that first blow, got back into the game, did a good job and we just couldn’t close out.”
Even more good news for the Wizards came from the play of its bench, a source of concern for Washington all season long. New acquisition Bojan Bogdanovic, who scored 15 points in his Wizards’ home debut on Sunday, followed that up with 16 points tonight in 24 minutes, with nine of those points coming in the second quarter as Washington’s second unit was able to play with the lead and hold onto that healthy margin.
“When you play with those guys that are All-Star players, it’s easy to adjust and easy to give your impact to a game,” said Bogdanovic, who was acquired last week in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets.
Now with its first win under its belt in the second half, Washington continues its toughest stretch on the schedule this season; a home-and-home with Toronto starts tomorrow at the Air Canada Centre and, after a home game against the Orlando Magic on Sunday, the Wizards start a five-game Western Conference road swing while the Verizon Center hosts the Big Ten Tournament.