Anyone who sloshed through the soggy red carpet inside the home team’s locker room could feel how much fun the Washington Wizards had Friday night. Following the Wizards’ 113-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, teammates baptized Tomas Satoransky with water bottles to celebrate his first career triple-double as a professional.
“I appreciate [how] they showed me love like that,” Satoransky said. “It’s a great feeling when they’re happy for you. I really appreciate the gesture.”
Even before Satoransky took a premature shower, anyone who watched the Wizards play an aesthetically pleasing (mostly) and modern version of basketball against the second-best team in the Eastern Conference could tell how efficient the roster can look when it plays to its potential. Washington, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, tied a franchise mark with 18 made three-pointers as every starter connected on at least one.
“We weren’t the ones that were down on ourselves when we were missing shots,” forward Jeff Green said of his teammates, who had ranked 28th in three-point percentage entering Friday’s matchup. “We knew that we could make shots. We just didn’t make them at the time given, but now we are.”
Both Satoransky’s performance — 18 points and team-highs in rebounds (12) and assists (10) — and the team’s 54.5 percent accuracy from the three-point arc were unexpected surprises. Satoransky hunts for the right play, not for statistics, and spent much of the fourth quarter waving off passes that might have resulted into turnovers.
It was a different kind of night for the Wizards, who are often the victim of opponents’ hot shooting; on Dec. 19, the Houston Rockets set an NBA record by drilling 26 three-pointers.
Friday closed a strong week for the Wizards (18-25) in their new normal after John Wall’s season-ending surgery. On Sunday, the team won for the first time in Oklahoma City since the Thunder/SuperSonics franchise moved to the Midwest. After consecutive victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Bucks, two of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards have won six of their last seven inside Capital One Arena.
Though a Tuesday night blowout loss in Philadelphia was wedged between the three performances, the Wizards ended the six-day stretch with the kind of momentum that should propel them through the second half of the season.
“Our team is totally different than the beginning of the year. Guys are injured. We have guys out and the guys that we activated, it’s just getting those guys adjusted and getting adjusted to everybody’s role,” guard Bradley Beal said. “It’s just a matter of us getting it together, and I think we’re finally at that point to where we can turn the corner.”
Against the Bucks, who did not play early MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, Beal submitted more work for rival coaches to consider when casting their votes for 2019 All-Star Game: 32 points (11 of 21 shooting), seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. He’s been on a tear, making 58.3 percent from the field over the last three games. But late in the fourth quarter against the Bucks, Beal obsessed over helping Satoransky collect his 10th assist.
“I’ve been trying to get him a triple-double for a little minute throughout the game,” Beal said. “I was under the basket telling him to throw it; he wouldn’t throw it. Eventually, we got to an easier play.”
With 1:43 remaining in the game, Satoransky lofted a pass at the rim as Beal soared in for the dunk. The pass recorded as Satoranky’s 10th assist and completed the triple-double teammates seemed to want more than he did.
“Keef was actually telling me, ‘You got to go get it! You got to go get it!’ ” Satoransky said of injured teammate Markieff Morris who watched from the bench. “And actually shout-out to Brad because he called that play because he [knew] I was one assist shy from it.”
Though the end focused on Satoransky’s milestone, the Wizards passed the ball purposefully throughout the game, which created one of their best shooting nights of the season. Half of Satoransky’s assists led to three-pointers for his teammates, and with 2:27 remaining, Beal drove the baseline, attracted the defense and hit an open Trevor Ariza in the corner for his sixth triple and the team’s 18th.
Overall, the Wizards executed a game plan that would earn applause from the analytics crowd: 54 points from beyond the arc, 36 near the rim and another 15 from the free throw line.
“We’ve been passing the ball well, we’ve been spacing it well,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “When we have Otto [Porter Jr.] on the court now, we have an extra shooter with Trevor. He was bound to make some of his threes.”
After the splashed threes, teammates soaked Satoransky.
“I think it was Ian [Mahinmi]. I think it was his idea,” Satoransky said, smiling. “That was a Euro-on-Euro crime.”
Across the water-splattered carpet, Beal was victimized just as much in the drenching — “My damn locker was wet, so I wasn’t too thrilled about that,” he said. Still, when a team displays this kind of excitement and plays this efficiently, the game can only be described one way.
“You never forget the fun part about it,” Beal said, “and tonight, we had a lot of fun.”