Scott Brooks hung his head and waded onto the floor after calling a timeout late in the third quarter Monday night, his Washington Wizards again dejected after the Orlando Magic had taken a 10-point lead. It was the fourth straight game the Wizards had fallen into a double-digit hole.
That included three nights earlier against this Magic team, which had demoralized Washington in Orlando and triggered even more outside speculation about whether the Wizards had already lost control of their season and whether they should blow up the roster.
Brooks had billed this rematch as not just the beginning of a crucial five-game homestand but as a game that could deliver stability to his struggling team — and that timeout with 4:57 left in the third quarter helped Washington regroup on its way to a 117-109 victory that gave the Wizards consecutive wins for the first time and could be remembered as a turning point during this young season.
“We got down 10. Couldn’t stay in front of the basketball. Fouling the shooters,” Brooks said. “And then we started defending.”
Washington (4-9) tore out of that huddle and tightened the screws defensively to spur a 14-2 run, which was highlighted by a string of brilliant plays at both ends of the floor by stars John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall finished with 25 points and 10 assists, while Beal earned his 21 points, including two on a steal and dunk that capped that pivotal run late in the third quarter and gave Washington a 79-77 lead. Wall’s performance, according to Beal, was energized by questions in the media about his team’s slow start.
“You all pissed him off, man. That’s all your fault. He’s going to come out and play like Wolf Wall,” Beal said. “That’s what we needed him to do. I’m happy you all lit a little flame up under him. He got us going.”
Said Wall: “I’m used to it.”
Orlando called its own timeout to break the momentum after Beal’s dunk, but Washington wasn’t complacent and remained consistent in its effort, something that has eluded this team throughout the first month of the season. After that timeout, Beal — who had plenty of struggles defensively and went just 2 for 10 from three-point range — dove onto the crowd to save a loose ball. Both Wall and Beal hit crucial shots in the fourth quarter, and reserve Jeff Green scored 10 of his 18 points in the final 12 minutes to help secure the win.
“We did a great job of just trying to defend,” Wall said.
Washington is still a team with pressing issues. It still struggled to execute on the defensive end for stretches Monday as Orlando shot 48 percent and hit 15 three-pointers, and it was clear that center Dwight Howard (17 points) is still working his way back to full strength after missing the early part of the season with a buttocks injury. But Washington showed growth by capitalizing where it needed to. It hit 24 of its 33 free throws, which were 22 more attempts than Orlando had. It grabbed seven more rebounds and received 32 points from the bench, including the 18 from Green.
And the effort appeared elevated, especially late in the game, when Orlando made push after push to pull even.
“That’s one thing that we’re starting to realize over the last two games, is that everybody has to sacrifice something for the betterment of the team,” Beal said.
The two teams had played neck and neck for most of the night. The Wizards hit seven three-pointers in the first 16 minutes, including a combined four from reserves Austin Rivers, Tomas Satoransky and Green — and Wall made one of his best plays of the game on his team’s final possession of the first half, an acrobatic finish with 1.8 seconds left that tied the game at 55 at halftime.
Wall stayed after the horn to argue with an official that he had been fouled, but he didn’t dwell on it. He exploded for another five points in the first minute of the third quarter, but then watched as his team continued to struggle on the defensive end — including multiple mistakes by Beal on the perimeter. Terrance Ross (21 points) and Evan Fournier (20) were problematic all evening.
Fournier ripped off five consecutive points, including a three-pointer less than five minutes into the third quarter that gave Orlando a 75-65 lead and caused Brooks to take the timeout. Washington’s defense was much more spirited after that, helping push that 14-2 run.
“Our defense wasn’t there at some points of the game. But we just figured it out. Probably two, three weeks ago, we lose that game,” Rivers said.
Green’s defense was crucial as Brooks toggled among lineups. “He can guard just about everybody on the floor,” Brooks said of Green, who also started his fourth-quarter scoring tear with a 28-footer, followed by a fadeaway jumper. Wall threw an alley-oop to Green with just under six minutes remaining that gave Washington a 101-96 lead, and Wall followed with a jumper after that.
Orlando closed back within five with just under three minutes remaining, but Beal was handed an open look on the next possession. After he drained the three-pointer to help create more distance, he stood still for a moment and pointed to the arena’s rafters before hustling back to the other end.
“The game rewards you,” Brooks said later, “if you play the defense.”