NEW YORK – Before the Wizards made the flight up to New York this week, their inability to close out games was beginning to become a chronic problem. They returned home realizing that they now have the talent and composure to finish after claiming victories over the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
The Wizards had blown double-digit leads in four of their 13 losses this season and they were once again teetering on disaster on Wednesday after watching the Nets chop down their 12-point lead to just one after Deron Williams made a pull-up jumper with 1 minute, 57 seconds remaining.
“No team is ever really out of it, and when you’re as talented as those guys are, you can hit threes and make shots,” John Wall said of the Nets. “We just stayed calm, we weathered the storm, we didn’t get down when they cut it to one, and we made a big play.”
Washington actually made several clutch plays – a rebound putback by Marcin Gortat, a three-pointer by Bradley Beal and two Nene free throws – over the next 67 seconds that proved to be the difference in a 113-107 victory at Barclays Center. The Wizards were lacking both Bradley Beal and Nene for the finish in close losses this month against Milwaukee, Denver and Atlanta but having that duo did more than provide them with more good players; they also had confidence down the stretch.
“We are a different team if we have everybody back. If we have a healthy team, it’s a totally different story,” Gortat said. “We got too many weapons to surprise every team in the NBA. We’ve got a lot of different options that we can go to. Quite honestly, it’s more fun to play basketball.”
Two nights before, Beal returned from injury, made the big shots and even took a charge in the final two minutes that helped propel the Wizards to their first win in New York in seven years. Nene’s return from a tendinitis in his right heel on Wednesday gave the Wizards another playmaker and scorer against the Nets.
The duo connected for the crushing shot with 68 seconds remaining that secured the win, with Beal catching Paul Pierce looking away and darted for a hand-off from Nene before burying the three-pointer. Beal then chest bumped Wall after Nets Coach Jason Kidd called timeout. “He’s hard to stop,” Nene said of Beal. “He being sniper right there. We always look for the best option. They need to decide, stay on me or stay on Brad. He been balling. He been making shots.”
But Gortat actually helped the Wizards hold off the Nets on the previous possession. Gortat had been battling inside with Kevin Garnett for a good portion of the night and when he saw Wall pull up for an 18-foot baseline jumper, Gortat pushed off Garnett to position himself for the rebound. Garnett fell to the ground, and in one motion, Gortat caught the ball and directed it off the backboard and into the hoop.
“We had a little talk, but it’s just KG,” said Gortat, who grabbed seven of his 10 rebounds in the fourth quarter. “I respect him a lot. He’s a great player. He’s one of my role models. It was just fun to play against him.”
After Beal’s clutch three-pointer, Williams tried to answer with a quick jumper but his shot bounded hard off the back of the rim and landed in front of Nene, who was later fouled and made both free throws to put the Wizards ahead 108-100 with 50.7 seconds remaining.
“I think as a team, we did a great job growing, of just staying with it, staying composed and staying poised down the stretch,” Beal said. “It’s a game of runs and we know everybody is going to make a run and we did a great job of just sticking to our concepts, and executing down the stretch and getting stops when we needed to.”
The Wizards made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 30 seconds and Wall added the final deflating touch when continued his stellar defense against Williams by slapping his layup attempt in the opposite direction. Wall finished with a team-high 21 points and six assists, but he was spared the pressure of having to make all of the plays at the end.
“We just got to get stops, because we knew they were going to make a run and we stuck with ourselves,” Wall said. “We just trusted each other and we moved the ball, trusted in the offense and the play calling we had. We’re a team that competed and we felt like we could have won those three or four games that Nene and Bradley Beal were out, we just didn’t do a good job of closing them out.”
Now the Wizards know that they can do it. “We’ve lost some close ones, but we’ve won a good share of these games,” Coach Randy Wittman said.
Martell Webster believes they are certainly capable of winning their fair share going forward. “It’s good,” Webster said of the past two wins. “It builds moral, strengthens the chemistry on this team, just having trust and being able to rely on each other and rally each other.”