MILWAUKEE — The Washington Wizards looked unfocused and out of sync and repeatedly flirted with disaster Wednesday night with their careless passes and defensive lapses.
But when they gather at the Indianapolis home of Al Harrington’s mother, Mona Lawton, for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, the Wizards will be grateful they had the wherewithal to stick with it and make the plays on both ends when it mattered — and that they were facing an opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks that couldn’t make them pay for their mistakes. Even with their lethargic play on the second end of back-to-back games, the Wizards hung around just long enough to sneak in and steal an ugly game on the road.
Marcin Gortat made 11 of 12 field goals and scored a season-high 25 points, including six in overtime, to lead the Wizards to a hard-earned 100-92 victory one night after they knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers at home.
“Quite honestly, I was afraid of this game. Milwaukee doesn’t have anything to lose,” Gortat said of the Bucks, who have lost 10 straight games. “I wasn’t afraid of being tired on back-to-back. I was afraid of being too confident and we going to let this game slip away, and we almost did. We had to fight.”
Lacking the same burst as previous games, John Wall wasn’t able to continue his recent offensive barrage, but he still finished with 19 points as the Wizards (7-8) won three in a row for the first time this season. They have won five of six overall.
“We’re in a tough stretch here. They’re not going to be pretty, but I give these guys credit. Mentally, we could’ve given in,” Coach Randy Wittman said.
After blowing a seven-point fourth-quarter lead, the Wizards held the Bucks scoreless for more than four minutes. Down 84-81 with a minute left in regulation, the Wizards got two steals to regain the lead. Wall picked off Bucks point guard Brandon Knight, and Martell Webster later got fouled on a three-pointer that tied the game at 84, but he missed the free throw. Trevor Ariza stole the ball from Bucks guard O.J. Mayo and sprinted up the floor for a layup that put the Wizards ahead 86-84. Then, after getting fouled while securing a rebound, Ariza made only 1 of 2 free throws to give his team a three-point lead with 12.7 seconds remaining.
The Wizards had a foul to give, and Wittman wanted his players to use it, but Mayo made sure the game would be extended another five minutes when he buried a three-pointer over the outstretched hands of Nene.
“That dude,” Nene said, shaking his head of Mayo. “We try foul him, but he shoot it like two step, way off the three-point line. What are you going to do? He made tough shot.”
Wall tried to finish the game in regulation, but he slipped on the Bucks’ new court, nearly lost his dribble and missed a lefty layup as time expired.
Bucks reserve Luke Ridnour gave his team a 90-89 lead with a three-pointer in overtime, but the Wizards worked the ball inside to Gortat on two baskets, then Ariza put the game out of reach with a three-pointer.
Webster reached double figures for the fifth time in six games since being inserted to the starting lineup. He had 18 points and made four three-pointers. Ariza had 14 in his second game back after missing the previous five with a strained right hamstring.
“We was just scrambling,” Ariza said. “We was messing around early in the game, let them stay in the game and had a dogfight at the end. Good teams make plays when they need to, and we’ve got to use it as a learning experience to get better for the next game.”
Wall had scored at least 30 points in three straight games, and he delivered in extremely efficient fashion, scoring 98 points on just 57 shot attempts. Wall felt his performance made a statement about being one of the best point guards, but he also understood it would be difficult to continue playing at the same level.
He didn’t drop off completely, but he started slowly before coming to life in the third quarter. He made three three-pointers and scored 13 of the Wizards’ 22 points to give his team a 71-68 lead entering the final period.
“No excuses,” Wall said, “but I really didn’t feel good. I couldn’t explode the way I wanted to attack the basket.”
Nene was coming off a night in which he scored a career-high 30 points against the Lakers, so with the Bucks focused on containing him, Gortat had a chance to provide most of the scoring inside. Gortat scored 12 points in the first half, then carried the team during a critical stretch in the fourth quarter, putting the team ahead 78-71 with 9:25 left in the fourth quarter.
But the Wizards got careless with the ball and committed four of their 20 turnovers on consecutive possessions to relinquish the lead as the Bucks went on a 9-0 run.
“It came down to a simple recognizing we can’t play down to the level of competition. We thought we had this game early, and that’s always a no-no in this league,” Webster said.
But now that the Wizards are 2-2 in overtime games this season, Webster was looking forward to celebrating with a huge meal with his teammates.
“Makes the food taste better,” Webster said.