The Latvian sharpshooter helped lift the Wizards to a 130-128 win over the Denver Nuggets, a result Washington almost squandered after it let a late double-digit lead slip away. After Denver’s Jamal Murray tied the score with a three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left, Bradley Beal drew a foul with 0.1 seconds to go and sank two free throws to secure the victory.
Despite the late antics, the Wizards emerged with their first three-game winning streak of the season heading into a tough Western Conference road trip that begins Saturday.
“The ultimate thing is that we stuck with it,” Beal said on a video conference. “It was like five different games in one tonight. . . . I think it just shows our poise and our growth. I think earlier in the year we definitely would have folded in those situations, but we did a good job of defending and executing when we needed to down the stretch.”
Washington leaves home with the confidence provided by three home wins and the knowledge that the Bertans of old is still capable of surfacing.
The forward’s performance wasn’t just good in comparison with the lousy start he has had after signing his five-year, $80 million contract before the season. He officially announced his return in style, pouring in a career-high nine three-pointers to set another career high with 35 points.
Bertans said afterward that he felt like a switch had been flipped before Monday’s game against the Houston Rockets, when he had 18 points on 5-for-6 shooting from three-point range. It was the first hint that he might have regained his form after a tough — and unfamiliar — stretch.
“Those couple months been frustrating as hell,” Bertans said. “Can’t sleep at night, after the game, thinking about it, because we had a lot of games that were close and I’ve taken nine, 10 shots that I would usually make at least five, six of them, and I’m going like 1 for 10, 2 for 10. As a competitor in my position, you kind of blame yourself a little bit.”
The forward executed his role perfectly Wednesday, including in the frantic final seconds. Denver ate away at Washington’s 13-point lead with 4:39 to play, and Murray first tied the score with a three-pointer with 30.8 seconds left. After a timeout, the Wizards shoved the ball to Bertans, who was fouled with 8.8 seconds left and hit all three free throws.
On the next possession, Washington allowed Murray to catch the ball, and forward Rui Hachimura stuck to Coach Scott Brooks’s plan and did not foul, allowing Murray to splash another three and tie the score again. Beal’s tough drive to the rim helped set up his winning free throws.
“We’ve had a couple of mess-ups in that situation throughout this year, and then we had a few of them in practice,” Brooks said of his decision not to foul. “So I wasn’t confident enough to do it again.”
Beal had 25 points and 10 assists, and backcourt mate Russell Westbrook had his seventh triple-double of the season with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.
Hachimura and backup point guard Raul Neto added 14 points each in a game the Wizards controlled from the start of the second quarter until the final five minutes.
Murray led the Nuggets with 35 points. Nikola Jokic added 33 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
The game’s initial turning point came early.
The Wizards yielded yet another 40-point first quarter, with Jokic acting as a human wrecking ball this time, scoring 15 points and dishing three assists while Brooks deployed all three of his centers in a feeble attempt to stop him.
Finally, Robin Lopez — and a pep talk from Westbrook — did the trick. Lopez wrapped up Jokic with the competency of a 13-year veteran through much of the second quarter, and that, combined with Bertans taking flight, helped the Wizards to a 46-point second quarter that erased Denver’s early 20-point lead.
“[Westbrook] was just letting us know that it was too easy for them out there,” Lopez said. “There wasn’t enough physicality. They were getting too many second-chance points. Everything was coming too simply for them. . . . My goal is just to try to make [Jokic] not quite as comfortable.”
Bertans, for his part, looked as if the first nearly two months of the season never happened. The Latvian made 4 of 4 attempts from deep in the second quarter, catching and letting fly with confidence that clearly trickled down to his entire team. Center Alex Len, back in the rotation after two absentee games, sealed the Wizards’ successful stretch with a dunk that the Nuggets’ defense simply stood and watched: It had been that kind of quarter.
Washington led 70-64 heading into the locker room.
Next up for the Wizards is a four-game road trip out West, where they will face Portland, both Los Angeles teams and a return game at Denver in a six-day span. They will be thin at the point guard spot — especially if Westbrook does not play both games in a Lakers-Clippers back-to-back — because backup Ish Smith is expected to miss six to eight weeks with the right quadriceps injury that already has kept him out of Washington’s past two games.
Smith, who is averaging 5.2 points, 4.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game, first injured his leg Friday against the New York Knicks.