MINNEAPOLIS — The Washington Wizards, entering a grueling stretch of their schedule without their four-time all-star point guard, played a few cards Tuesday night they weren’t accustomed to — and the result was a stirring 92-89 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In their first victory since John Wall was shut down for about two weeks with left knee inflammation, the Wizards overcame a double-digit deficit by turning to their defense, their bench and, more than anything, the most understated member of the team’s big three — Otto Porter Jr.
Porter had a game-high 22 points, including the Wizards’ final two field goals — a game-tying play at the rim off a nice pass from Mike Scott and a 22-foot jumper to put the Wizards ahead with 25 seconds remaining.
Washington (11-9) snapped a two-game losing streak at a key time with the Philadelphia 76ers visiting Capital One Arena on Wednesday night for the second game of a back-to-back set for the Wizards.
Though Bradley Beal hit the free throw in the closing moments to produce the final margin, he played almost 35 minutes as the team’s sole facilitator. Beal collected six assists, but his stint as lead guard affected his own offense as he faced clogged lanes and defenders loading up on pick-and-roll plays.
“They didn’t want me to get anything going,” said Beal, who finished with eight points on 2-for-11 shooting. “I wasn’t necessarily scoring and I’m okay with that because someone else is. Our team is going to score one way or another.”
And as Beal struggled to score, Porter filled the offensive gaps.
One day after Beal implored Porter to become a more vocal alpha male in Wall’s absence, Beal shared a story from Tuesday’s game in which Porter requested more looks in the fourth quarter in the post against a smaller Timberwolves guard. With 25 seconds remaining, the Wizards needed a basket and ran a play for Porter. His one-dribble pull-up jumper produced the decisive points of an impressive road win.
“One of our best players is out,” Porter said. “The whole team has to step up and do more.”
Washington held Minnesota to 41.2 percent shooting and kept the Timberwolves (12-9) under 90 points for the first time this season.
“It was the defense we needed to win the game,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “We just kept hanging in there, making key plays, winning basketball plays for one another. A lot of guys played well. It’s a great team win.”
Since learning that knee issues would keep Wall out for at least two weeks, Brooks has shared a message of improvement. The team must become a better version of itself while Wall sits, and against the Timberwolves, the bench played one of its best games.
Every member of the Wizards’ second unit finished with a plus/minus of 12 points or more and obliterated Minnesota’s bench for a 49-11 scoring advantage. Conversely, the starters produced negative plus/minus numbers, and no one other than Porter reached double figures in scoring.
“The bench all came in and did their job,” Brooks said. “They basically gave us the win tonight.”
Each role player played to his strengths. Kelly Oubre Jr. took on defensive assignments against the Timberwolves’ top perimeter player, Jimmy Butler, while still scoring 16 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Jodie Meeks made his first three three-pointers and finished with a 4-for-6 line from beyond the arc for 12 points. Scott, who has floated in and out of the rotation, had an efficient night of 12 points, five rebounds and two assists, including the one that led to Porter’s game-tying bucket.
“Every night we know the starters won’t quote-unquote have it,” Meeks said. “We wanted to come in and give some energy and fortunately we were able to help turn it around.”
In the fourth quarter, Brooks trusted his gut in playing five role players. Three starters — Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat and Tim Frazier, who has replaced Wall in the lineup — did not leave the bench as the second unit put in the heavy lifting. More than any other player, Ian Mahinmi justified Brooks’s faith in his bench.
Mahinmi, who has struggled to contribute offensively, played stout defense against Karl-Anthony Towns and added a bit of playmaking.
Though Towns finished with 20 points on 9-for-19 shooting, Mahinmi played him tough late in the game — obstructing shots and stealing a pass that eventually led to a loose ball and Tyus Jones hitting a three-pointer to give Minnesota an 87-83 lead with 4:13 to play.
Washington lost that possession, but Mahinmi showed up big on the other end in fighting over Towns for offensive rebounds. Mahinmi’s work under the offensive glass saved a late possession, and on the reset he threw a pass back to the arc where Scott waited and made a three-pointer that tied the game at 87 with 2:48 left.
“It feels good to win on the road,” Mahinmi said, “and it feels good to get a good chunk of minutes in the fourth quarter.”