Nothing about Wednesday night cured Washington’s warts, but that didn’t mean the 138-132 win, another absurdly high-scoring matchup, lacked amusement.
“Like I said at the start of the season, if we continue to play hard and compete and believe in what we’re doing and our guys are doing it — our players, our staff, our organization — our fans are going to fall in love with the team. That’s what’s happening, because the guys are playing hard,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re not perfect. We’re not going to be mistake-free, but we’re going to compete and we’re going to celebrate each other’s success. I love the energy.”
Fans inside Capital One Arena didn’t have to waste energy wondering if the Wizards would get consistent stops — they didn’t. The team instead presented its supporters with more entertaining questions.
Would Bradley Beal ever miss a shot in the third quarter, for example? Or how many teammates would Ish Smith chest-bump after hitting one of his three three-pointers? And just how crazy would the end of this game get?
The Wizards (4-8) led 129-117 with less than three minutes to play but found themselves desperately holding onto a two-point advantage in the final 15 seconds. Beal extended the lead to four points on the following possession, and the game finally shifted in Washington’s favor for good when Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan missed two free throws with 9.9 seconds left.
Seven Wizards players reached double figures, with three scoring 21 points or more. Beal poured in a game-high 33 points (14-for-24 shooting) to go with four assists and four rebounds. Beal made 9 of 9 from the field in the third quarter, and the Wizards maintained the lead after his outburst, though it did get shaky at times near the end.
Forward Davis Bertans, who spent the past three seasons with the Spurs, scored 21 points off the bench. Smith, the backup point guard, also scored 21 points and knocked down a pair of three-pointers in the final quarter. With 4:32 to play, Smith knocked down an open three after an offensive tap-back from rookie Rui Hachimura, then began ping-ponging off giddy teammates who wanted to celebrate with leaping chest-bumps.
“[I’ve been] going through a little slump early in the season,” said Smith, who entered Wednesday averaging 6.3 points per game. “Through the 82 games, you have to keep pushing, keep pressing. Our second unit, we try to play with pace, try to get the ball from the first side to the second side and possibly the third side. Tonight, I got my number called and made some shots.”
Washington won at home for the second time this season, sending San Antonio (5-10) to its seventh consecutive loss.
“All in all, if you score 132 points, you should probably have a pretty good chance to win a game,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said. “The bad news is that if you give up 138, you’re probably not going to [win]. I’m just a really smart guy — yeah, I’m figuring that’s logical, right? Yeah, you know, 138 is probably going to be tough to win that game.”
How’s this for logic: The Wizards once scored 158 points in a game this season and still lost. Although giving up 132 isn’t exactly stellar, the Wizards found a way to win. On Wednesday, that was all that mattered.
“One hundred percent. A win is a win, but we still got to get better,” Beal said. “I won’t say that we are complacent with it, but I would say we definitely made a step in the right direction in terms of having a better IQ, talking more. In terms of those, yes, but we got to run guys off the three-point line as much as possible and get that 132 down. That’s way too many points.”
Many of the Wizards’ problems on defense have stemmed from their lack of recognition.
They haven’t always remembered the tendencies of their opponents. Although DeRozan, who finished with 31 points, loves to pump-fake and make defenders leap on cue, Hachimura still left his feet the first time he had DeRozan on a one-on-one. The move tricked Hachimura into committing his second foul after a little more than three minutes had expired in the opening quarter.
The Wizards also haven’t been connected on the defensive end. DeRozan drew Troy Brown Jr. into his second foul, but only because Isaiah Thomas unexpectedly left his man to jump in front of DeRozan, who promptly got a step on him, headed toward the rim and compelled Brown to act.
By halftime, DeRozan had as many free throw attempts (seven) as the Wizards had overall, the Spurs made 26 of their 46 shots (56.5 percent), and they tallied 69 points to build a six-point lead.
In the second half, Beal gave the Wizards the edge. He never left the court in the third quarter, and he didn’t miss a shot. Beal scored 21 of Washington’s 38 points in the decisive period, helping to turn the six-point deficit into a three-point lead.
“Brad took over,” Brooks said, “and he’s hard to stop.”
Beal’s outburst meant the Wizards didn’t need to be all that steady on the defensive end. The Spurs ended up shooting 52.7 percent from the field, but for at least one night, the Wizards’ offense covered their mistakes.