PHOENIX – Right around the time the Phoenix Suns scored six points in the final 51 seconds of the second period Friday night, capped off by high-flying guard Gerald Green’s rapid baseline slam, Washington Coach Randy Wittman realized that the Wizards were not going to win a shootout despite his team’s best efforts.
That surge, which gave Phoenix 57 points at halftime, concluded a stellar offensive first half in which Suns point guard Goran Dragic weaved through creases in the defense for layups, forward Channing Frye was dropping open three-pointers with ease and the Suns shot 58.8 percent from the floor.
Washington was able to hang around in the first half by getting offensive rebounds and forcing the occasional turnover. In the second half, the Wizards made several defensive adjustments, putting the clamps on one of the league’s most efficient, high-scoring teams to claim a 101-95 win.
“We know that to win you have to defend,” John Wall said after the Wizards (21-21) recovered from an overtime loss to Boston to beat the surprising Suns (24-18).
Frye made a jumper to start the third period to put the Suns ahead, 59-51, but the Wizards went on an 11-2 run over the next two minutes. The Wizards forced three turnovers and limited the Suns to just two field goal attempts and took their first lead of the second half when Wall intercepted a pass by Frye and threw a Manning-esque outlet pass to Trevor Ariza for a dunk.
Washington consistently trapped, Wall hounded Dragic, Ariza switched from P.J. Tucker to Frye and Nene moved over to guard the inferior scorer Tucker so that he could be more of a help defender. The Wizards played the passing lanes and maintained their defensive intensity throughout a period in which they had six steals and limited the Suns to just six field goals. Ariza had three of his four steals in the third quarter.
“Trevor was really good,” Marcin Gortat said. “He changed some matchups in the middle of the game. we just forced them to make tough decisions and tough passes and they turn the ball over a lot of times.
In the second half, the Wizards outscored the Suns, 50-38, held them to 37.8 percent shooting and surrendered just one three-pointer in 12 attempts.
“We made some adjustments at halftime and our guys bought into it and executed it,” Wittman said, refusing to elaborate on his adjustments. “I’m not going to tell you that, because we have to play them again.”
Wall rose to the challenge of containing Dragic, who shot just 3 for 10 in the second half. Afterward, Wall marveled at the difficultly in trying to keep up with the speedy Dragic.
“Man, man, man. That was reminding me of just chasing Steve Nash,” Wall said of Dragic. “I was just constantly not trying to give up on the play. That’s one thing coach always told me. I had to keep coming and keep chasing.”
Dragic was still able to create some for his teammates and had one of the incredible bounce pass through Gortat’s legs that ended with a dunk by Miles Plumlee. “He’s got a lot of tricks in his game. He’s a very crafty player and we just tried to make it tough for him,” Wall said.
Wall followed up his second career triple-double with a more efficient, 18-point, 11-assist performance in which he let Ariza, Nene and Bradley Beal shine in the end. The day before, Wittman sat down with Wall to get him to rein in his desires to take over, as he did while attempting a season-high 29 shots in the loss against Boston. Wittman was touched by Wall’s response to the conversation.
“That’s why I love the kid. The kid’s got the heart of a lion,” Wittman said. “I just thought, he in that Boston game was like, ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to get it done right away.’ He was in full agreement. We had a great talk and he knew it after the game, but that’s who he is. He wants to win and I’ll take players like that everyday, who you might have to sit him down once or twice a year and say, ‘All right, back off a little bit.’ ”
Gortat took the most pleasure in the performance, because it allowed him to leave Phoenix with a victory that he made no secret about desiring.
“That’s something he always talked about: ‘Y’all got to play big for me. Y’all got to play big for me,’ ” Wall said of Gortat.
It took them a half to get it together, but the Wizards finally came up with one their finest defensive efforts of the season, considering the opponent and the location. Phoenix, which entered the game ranked eighth in points per 100 possessions (106.1), has scored more than 100 points in 27 games this season but is now 3-12 when held below triple-digits.
“You can’t play good teams and do the same thing for 48 minutes. You can’t do it,” Wittman said. “Good teams figure it out. We did multiple things throughout the game and you’ve got to keep good players guessing, ‘Okay, what are they going to do?’ That’s hard to do, to change as much as we did this game.”