Spurs 125, Wizards 118: After a stunning late rally, Washington falls in a heartbreaker


Trevor Ariza (15 points, 10 rebounds) and John Wall (29 points, nine assists) are mere speedbumps for San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

On the verge of a tough loss and with fans flooding the exits, it would’ve been easy for the Washington Wizards to simply allow San Antonio's Tim Duncan to lob in the inbounds pass to Patty Mills in the final seconds of overtime. But John Wall was not willing to give in. And when Duncan floated the pass high, Wall leaped higher to pick it off, then raced up the court for a layup to complete an improbable one-man run of six points in 10 seconds to force another extra period.

Any momentum created for the Wizards from the dramatic finish to the first overtime dissipated in the second behind tired legs, poor execution, half-hearted jumpers and slow rotations. The result was a 125-118 loss to the Spurs that extended the longest, most lopsided current streak over one team in the NBA.

“Fatigue should never be a factor,” Trevor Ariza said. “Wasn’t an excuse for well-conditioned athletes. They just beat us. We’re not going to use tired as an excuse. They just flat-out beat us. John came up with three plays to get us to overtime and we laid an egg.”

Wall scored a team-high 29 points but missed all six of his shots in the second overtime as the Wizards (24-24) lost to the Spurs for the 16th consecutive time. The loss also snapped a two-game win streak for Washington, which had made a habit of giant-killing at Verizon Center in recent weeks. The Wizards had a 17-point lead in the first half, but crumbled in the third quarter, when Duncan rallied his team by scoring 14 of his game-high 31 points.

Already without Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs lost all-star point guard Tony Parker to back tightness at halftime and Duncan to fouls in the second overtime. Mills, Parker's backup, scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and the first overtime. Danny Green finished with 22 points, including a crushing three-pointer in the second overtime to put the Spurs ahead, 122-117.

Wall had a game-high nine assists, but the Wizards were forced to play the extra sessions without Bradley Beal. Beal, still adhering to a minutes restriction as he recovers from a stress injury in his right fibula, had already exhausted his 35 minutes in regulation, scoring 19 points.

Beal acknowledged it was tough to sit out the extra frames, “but we still had an opportunity to win in both overtimes. . . . You can learn a lot from this team. Their so-called best players and stars didn’t play and you could see their intensity and how they played the whole game. Just the fact that they took advantage of their opportunities, that they were playing hard and playing to win. Just their mentality to coming in, you can steal from that. That’s a great ball club.”

For one half, the Wizards were dominating a Spurs team that had come within six seconds of winning a fifth NBA championship last season. The defense was swarming and relentless as it forced turnovers and created fast-break opportunities. Wall had the ball on the string and was finding his teammates cutting to the basket and hitting pull-up jumpers.

When Wall stole the ball from Green and fed Beal for a one-handed jam, the Wizards led 55-38 and appeared to be headed toward their first win over the Spurs since Nov. 12, 2005.

Nene called out his teammates after a 13-point loss in San Antonio three months ago, telling the young players on the team to "take their heads out their butts" and start playing more like a team. The comments jarred both Wall and Beal, and Nene eventually apologized for airing out his frustrations publicly, but the message resonated and resulted in improved play.

When they came together for the rematch, the Wizards were coming off wins over two of the top teams in the Western Conference in Oklahoma City and Portland, rising above the .500 mark for the first time in more than four years. Nene finished with 12 points on Wednesday but shot just 4 of 14 from the field and declined to speak after the game.

Without Parker, the Spurs simply plugged in Nando De Colo and later Mills and outscored the Wizards 34-21 in the third period, trailing by one point after Garrett Temple hit a fade-away jumper as time expired.

“They are a veteran team,” Wall said. “It doesn’t matter how much they’re down, they are going to keep playing the same way. They got back into the game and it was a dogfight from there. It’s more devastating because we knew we had to play the same way we had to play in the first half against a veteran team like this and no matter who they got on the court, the next guys is always stepping up big for them. We didn’t do that in the second half and they hurt us.”

Green hit a three-pointer to bring the Spurs within 94-92, but Wall made a free throw and later found Nene cutting to the basket for a scoop shot that bounded high off the rim before dropping. After Ariza dunked to put the Wizards ahead, 99-94, the Spurs responded with a three-pointer from Mills and hook from Duncan to tie the game with 62 seconds remaining in regulation.

Mills hit a three-pointer to put the Spurs ahead, 111-104, in overtime, but after Wall willed the Wizards to another five minutes, the team went 0 for 11 in the extra frame and are now 2-6 in overtime games.

“John tried to push the ball, but some of us just didn’t have it, and that’s tough,” Marcin Gortat said. “It’s a frustrating loss, because we had that game. We thought that we were going to break history and we were going to finally beat them after nine years but I guess we will have to wait another six months.”

Wizards note: Trevor Booker missed the victory over Portland to attend the funeral of his grandfather, Mc’elroy, in Carlisle, S.C. Booker said before the game that his grandfather always enjoyed watching him play and vowed to have an inspired performance. He scored 10 points Wednesday to lead the Wizards’ bench production and also grabbed six rebounds.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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