NEW YORK — The first Washington Wizards reserve to check into the team’s 98-83 win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday night was Drew Gooden III with 5 minutes 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Over the next few minutes, others began filing in. With 29.4 seconds left, the entire Wizards starting five was on the bench and the Knicks were leading 23-17.
Based on the last two games, the Wizards were in for trouble. Washington’s bench had blown big leads against the Orlando Magic on Thursday and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.
“We kind of let our first group down a couple games, going out there blowing double-digit leads and I told this group, I said, ‘Hey, if we don’t score the ball, that’s fine,’” Gooden recalled. “But if the other team doesn’t score we know we did our job. And our first group can come back in and push the lead.’”
And unlike the previous two games, the Wizards bench held its own, keeping the Knicks within four points until the starters began checking in again. In the second half the unit did more than that, helping the Wizards build a 17-point lead led by season-high point totals from Kevin Seraphin (15) and Andre Miller (12).
“The bench definitely stepped up tonight,” starting shooting guard Garrett Temple said. “They came out tonight and they played real, real big.”
Ultimately, the Wizards bench outscored its counterpart 41-32 after being outscored in each of the first three games of the season. Andre Miller orchestrated the effort and tallied 12 points and three assists.
Otto Porter Jr., coming off a career-high 21 points versus Milwaukee, continued Paul Pierce’s stout defense on Carmelo Anthony and contributed a quiet all-around effort with seven rebounds, four assists, and four points.
Kevin Seraphin, held scoreless in 10 minutes through Washington’s initial three games, recorded his first 15 points of the season on 6 of 7 shooting. The fifth-year big man didn’t see the floor in the Wizards’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks after poor performances off the bench in Washington’s first two games.
“I just tried to stay ready,” said Seraphin, who also provided stout rim protection without recording the cheap fouls that have plagued him. “I came tonight and I was just ready.”
Coach Randy Wittman attributed his bench’s dismal efforts in the first three games to a lack of flow offensively, but was confident the reserves would break out of it. And they used the same formula the starting lineup did: utilizing stingy defense to mask offensive flaws until the points started piling up.
“I just told our guys, ‘I’m not worry about our offense. Don’t you guys worry about it. Defense is going to win this game for us,'” Wittman said.
The bench production was necessary as the starters didn’t perform as they did in the previous three games. Nene and Marcin Gortat, dominant together against the Bucks, were held to just six points each on a combined 6 of 16 shooting. John Wall’s three-game double-double streak was snapped as he posted 11 points and 7 assists. Garrett Temple and Pierce carried the starting five’s offense with a team-high 17 points each.
“They understand they had their struggles in the first week, but it’s still early,” Pierce said of the bench. “They’re still trying to get their chemistry together, and I thought tonight it really came together. They figured it out. But it starts with the defense no matter what we do.”