SACRAMENTO, Calif. – From Trevor Ariza’s turnaround, fadeaway jumper off the glass to beat the shot clock to Martell Webster’s four-point play to Drew Gooden’s tip-in to beat the third-quarter buzzer in less than six-tenths of a second, the Wizards had too much working in their favor during a rally that turned a 13-point first-half deficit into an 11-point fourth-quarter lead against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.
Those good breaks also gave the Wizards a false sense of security. Washington forgot that it would still need to maintain focus defensively, execute offensively, hit a few free throws and try somehow to secure some rebounds against one of the league’s highest-scoring and best-rebounding teams to earn their first victory at Sleep Train Arena in more than four years.
But the Wizards slipped in all areas and had to begrudgingly accept a disappointing 117-111 overtime loss. When reminded of the spirited 51-27 run that put the Wizards in position to win three games in a row before it all went to waste, Gooden said, “That hurts when you put it that way – to turn it around and go up 11 points and then give that game away … ”
Gooden shook his head, then gave credit to the Kings for fighting back, forcing overtime and seizing control in the extra frame. But Gooden knew, like the rest of his teammates, that the Wizards coughed up a game that wouldn’t have gone in the loss column — and certainly not overtime — without a committed, 48-minute effort.
“We probably got a little complacent,” Beal said. “We gave them that game, man. We didn’t get stops, they made more plays. At the end of the day, they wanted it more than we did.”
The Kings have nothing to play for at this time of year and the Wizards are in a fight for playoff positioning, but the distinction wasn’t obvious with the game on the line. Sacramento dominated the Wizards in rebounding (57-41) and second-chance points (23-10) and had the look of a desperate, hungrier team.
The Wizards have given away their share of games this season but had appeared to put those sloppy finishes behind them, especially after two dramatic wins before leaving for Sacramento. But now, after Saturday’s emotional comeback win over Brooklyn to move into fifth place, the Wizards (35-32) are now a half-game behind the Nets in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
“The first one is tough to lose like this,” John Wall said of this critical four-game road trip, which continues on Thursday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Marcin Gortat made a jump hook to put the Wizards up 10 with 4:25 remaining in regulation but the offense got stagnant and the defense took a nap. Rudy Gay personally outscored the Wizards 9-8 the rest of the period, making four contested shots.
“We’ve got to execute. We’ve got to make free throws and we’ve got to stop,” Gortat said. “We can’t stop them. You can’t win basketball games if you’re giving up bucket after bucket. You can’t outscore a team like that. You’ve just got to play better in clutch time and at the end of the day we get punished.”
Washington also appeared to settle for jumpers rather than stay aggressive and work the ball inside. Gortat and Gooden had the Wizards’ only field goals in the last four minutes, with the team missing four three-pointers. The Wizards were 9 of 24 from long distance in regulation.
“I just think down the stretch we kind of started playing on our heels and you know they kept guarding the same play over and over again. It kind of played into their lap down,” Gooden said. “Coming down the stretch you’ve got to execute and if one thing isn’t working you’ve got to do another thing. I think we were kind of beating a dead horse offensively and it kind of came back and bit us in the end.”
The Wizards still led 100-95 in the final minute and could’ve won in regulation if they had secured an offensive rebound after Isaiah Thomas missed a three-pointer with 22 seconds left. DeMarcus Cousins, however, grabbed the ball and got it back to Thomas, who buried his next attempt from long distance.
Realizing that the Kings were looking to intentionally foul, Wall rushed to get the ball and went to the free throw line with 17.6 seconds remaining. With a chance to clinch the victory, Wall missed both free throws, setting up Gay’s tying jumper over Ariza and Gortat.
Wall has an unfortunate history in Sacramento when it comes to late-game free throws. In his third game back from a left knee stress injury last season, Wall missed two free throws with the score tied at 94 with 30 seconds remaining — and the Wizards lost by one.
“I feel like I lost this game,” Wall said after Tuesday’s defeat. “Those are big free throws but they rimmed in and out and that really frustrated me.”
His teammates appeared to sink with him. Because with a chance to win the game in regulation, Beal missed a 21-foot jumper as time expired. And when the Wizards entered overtime, they were dazed by a bad run of luck and stumbled through the final five minutes, pursuing victory in blindfolds. Washington is now 4-7 in overtime games this season.
“Our mind was kind of bad going into overtime. Were like, ‘Dang, we should’ve won it outright.’ We did this,” Beal said, acting as if he was handing off a present, “and just gave it to them.”