For the second straight game, the Washington Wizards turned significant segments over to the bench and lived to tell about it.
Against the Sacramento Kings on Monday night, Mike Scott hit the bull’s eye on almost every shot attempt. Kelly Oubre Jr. found younger and less experienced players to bully, and like a wily veteran, he doled out lessons to the young bucks. And when it was entrusted with the game, the Wizards’ five-man bench played at a fast and unrelenting tempo, guiding Washington to a 110-92 win over Sacramento in front of an announced crowd of 14,660 at Capital One Arena.
John Wall did not miss a shot until the 6:31 mark of the third quarter, and Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter Jr. played competently while matching up against Sacramento’s starters, but these contributions amounted to nice details in the Wizards’ third straight win and eighth in 13 games. The bench powered this one, resetting the action after the first unit’s poor defensive start and flipping a seven-point deficit into a lasting lead.
“Just being unselfish,” Scott explained, then ticked off the winning formula: “Keeping the tempo up, playing fast and playing unselfish on both ends and getting the easy buckets. Moving the ball, and it’s been working.”
Oubre and Scott entered the Monday matchup as the high scorers on the bench and continued that trend against the Kings. Scott hit his first four shots and eclipsed his 8.0 scoring average by halftime. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Oubre played a balanced game with 12 points, eight rebounds and two steals.
Wall made 8 of 9 from the field for 21 points and finished with nine assists, while Gortat scored 18 and pulled down seven rebounds — “might have been his best game of the season,” Coach Scott Brooks said.
Porter provided 15 points, and Bradley Beal scored 14 but rested through much of the fourth quarter while the second unit finished the job.
“We know it’s a work in progress not having [Markieff Morris] and having Kelly and guys in the starting lineup,” Wall said, then mentioned Brooks’s evident plan in allowing the bench to develop. “He’s getting those guys used to the five guys that they’re going to have out there and building that confidence up. I think they’re doing a great job out there.”
The bench scored 38, not quite matching its 54-point performance from Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks but again rewarding Brooks for playing five role players at the same time.
“They gave us” a boost, Brooks said. “We didn’t have the defense that we wanted to. And then we gave up 32 points in that first quarter, and our second unit, I think we got six or seven out of eight stops to start the second quarter, and that created points. We generated points off of our defense. We’re at our best when we defend and when we try to score off our defense.”
The Wizards’ recent schedule has helped the second unit bond. On Saturday, the group matched up with the reserves for the Hawks, at 2-11 the worst team in the Eastern Conference. And on Monday, the bench faced a Sacramento team so green that Oubre, the Wizards’ youngest player at 21, could relate old AAU stories about rookies De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson, two key role players for the Kings, at the morning shootaround.
“If they haven’t had that ‘Welcome to the NBA’ moment, then it’ll be coming soon,” Oubre said with a smirk. “It’s kind of like Houston hoops homecoming for me.”
And a party for the Wizards’ bench. Besides the rookies, Sacramento sent second-year players Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere, along with veteran Kosta Koufas, onto the court at the start of the second quarter to protect a 32-25 lead. The group, not exactly a fearsome five, took over after the Kings’ starters had made 12 of 22 shots, including four from beyond the three-point arc.
“Coach put a little fire up under the second group after the first quarter,” Beal said. “We kind of laid an egg a little bit. We weren’t as aggressive on the defensive end, and they came in and got the lead right back in a snap of a finger.
“That was great,” Beal continued. “That shows signs of growth and maturity from us as a group.”
Washington’s reserves, including Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Ian Mahinmi, cleaned up where the starters had made a defensive mess. Starting in the second quarter, the defense clicked, and Washington held the Kings to 40.5 percent shooting for the night.
In the quarter, Meeks hit driving shots on consecutive possessions, then Oubre began his mission to reclaim AAU supremacy, outworking Jackson for a strong offensive rebound and putback.
Scott also made easy work of the Kings and entered target practice. Oubre, who attacked Jackson on every half-court possession, penetrated and found Scott behind him, wide open at the elbow.
Over the opening 3:43 of the quarter, Washington outscored the Kings 15-2. As the Wizards’ starters returned, Sacramento Coach Dave Joerger stayed with his young substitutes, and that meant Wall faced little resistance as well. With 3:46 remaining in the half, Wall sized up Jackson, who gave a shooter who had not missed at that point several feet of airspace, and hit his third three of the half.
Overall, Wall made all four attempts from beyond the arc in his best shooting game of the season. Just after the midway point of the fourth quarter, when the Wizards’ lead dwindled to 14 points, Brooks brought back Wall, Gortat and Beal. After restoring order, the starters again returned to the sideline, and the bench closed out a game it had altered with a strong second-quarter run.
“We definitely have confidence in our team and the bench guys to come in and close the game out,” Beal said. “But sometimes Coach takes his precautions and throws us back in the game. But we’re definitely confident in the situation for them to close it out.”