The Wizards ticked off one final item on their NBA bubble bucket list with a 96-90 win over a skeleton-crew Celtics squad in their season finale Thursday, securing their first win of the season restart. Though no one knows for sure when the 2020-21 season will begin or what it will look like, Washington's young players at least have a happy memory to hold with them in the offseason abyss.
Playing against a Boston team sitting its entire starting lineup, the Wizards wanted this one bad.
Thomas Bryant led the way with 26 points and nine rebounds, establishing a baseline of intensity for Washington in the fourth quarter that helped maintain the type of slim lead the Wizards have watched seep away late in previous games.
“Today was a good closeout game. It was a fight game, and it was a game where you could easily start thinking about where we’re going to be tonight when we land in D.C.,” Brooks said. “But our guys, we battled, we fought, we stayed in it. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes, and we won on the defensive end, which was nice.”
Troy Brown Jr., again starting at point guard, had 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists to complete a solid bubble performance. Johnathan Williams started in place of Rui Hachimura, who sat with right quad soreness, and pulled in a team-high 16 rebounds. Hachimura, Washington’s prized rookie, ended the season with averages of 13.5 points (third on the team) and 6.1 rebounds (second on the team).
“It feels good. It was not the expectations we had or wanted, but it feels good to close it out with a win,” Bryant said.
The Wizards (25-47), the last team invited to Florida, left with a 1-7 record inside the bubble without Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans or John Wall to steer the ship. It was a disappointing end to a campaign that, until the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in March, was defined by Beal’s superlative play and Bertans’s awesome numbers from beyond the three-point arc. Together, they helped Washington exceed expectations on offense, even as the team’s defense sat slumped among the league’s worst.
Without them, Brooks and General Manager Tommy Sheppard narrowed their focus on developing the rest of a young roster.
Both came away pleased with the growth they saw from players such as Brown, who showcased a versatile skill set that may come in handy playing behind a healthy Wall next season, and Bryant, who established himself as one of the more consistent performers in Florida. They extolled the benefits of the bubble throughout their time there, happy for the chance to build chemistry and play competitive games against high-class competition — something the eight teams left out of the bubble won’t have the chance to do for months.
Regarding their poor record, Sheppard said in a phone interview last week he has peace of mind knowing he left a pair of all-stars at home while most of the Wizards’ opponents had more or less full rosters, even if a handful of teams sat major contributors against the Wizards.
“This isn’t summer league, where you go out there and guard a couple guys who are in the NBA but everybody else is in Europe. Everything counts here,” Sheppard said. “You’re getting to see people’s best. Rui went through a stretch where every guy he was guarding was on the all-NBA team or was an all-star. We couldn’t ask for it better. That’s just what you want. You want to find out real quick how much it really takes to be an elite player in the NBA.
“I don't have to pull my hair out wondering, my God, what are we going to do with this team? We have a sense that we'll be much better for this process right here because of the experience these guys are getting, getting thrown into the fire."
While his players get a few weeks to rest and reconnect with the families they left behind six weeks ago before the coaching staff wants to see them back in the gym, Sheppard now rolls along to the draft, which is tentatively set for Oct. 16. In the Aug. 20 draft lottery, the team has the ninth-best chance at the No. 1 pick.
Sheppard, who was the team’s front-office representative in Florida, has been on scouting calls with Brooks and the coaching staff while his team worked in the gym. The Wizards’ past two months have been all about preparing for the future. In officially closing the weird, uneven 2019-20 season, Washington took another step in that direction.
“We know we have to add pieces to our team,” Brooks said before the final game. “You won’t see the same team next season as the team you’re seeing today. That’s exciting. We’ve obviously got core pieces that are out — they will be back and healthy. Add another piece or two, and things can look pretty good pretty quick.”
Read more on the NBA: