However, one of the Wizards’ shining defensive moments during their 135-119 loss at Capital One Arena was merely a mirage: Leonard simply passed to teammate Montrezl Harrell, who took the baseline and dunked between two defenders. The play ended miserably for the Wizards — just as most of their defensive possessions did.
If Leonard wasn’t busy scoring a game-high 34 points, fellow all-star Paul George was pouring in 27 on 11-for-21 shooting. And on the off chance that neither superstar had the ball, one of the other scorers on the Clippers’ deep roster — perhaps Harrell, who finished with 20 points off the bench — devastated the Wizards.
The frustration didn’t end there. Besides watching the Clippers (17-7) score at will, Washington (7-15) spent the night vociferously complaining about fouls and non-calls.
The Wizards drew three technical fouls; even mild-mannered Ish Smith drew one in the fourth quarter while sticking up for Beal after he did not get a whistle after he drove and took contact at the rim.
“When Ish gets a [technical foul], I know something’s going on,” said Coach Scott Brooks, who picked up a tech in the first quarter. “That guy is the nicest guy on the planet. He gets a technical by just telling a referee to call it the same on the other end.”
Although Beal attempted nine free throws, more than any other player, when asked about his frustration level with the officiating, he didn’t hold back.
“Honestly, it’s out the roof,” he said. “It really is. It’s really unfair and unacceptable that they allow a lot of stuff to go on with me out there and not get calls — period. It’s just unacceptable.
“That s--- ain’t fair,” he concluded.
The refs, as Beal perceived, did little to curtail the Clippers’ defensive tactics. The first unit smothered and harassed him, making his life miserable as soon as the ball was tipped. And when the first quarter finally ended, Beal needed some alone time with the net. In the final seconds, he shot from 18 feet and missed again. The buzzer brought the end of an 0-for-5 quarter, and Beal walked beneath the rim, lifted his arms and grabbed the nylon while staring off into the distance.
After trying to play through the Clippers’ meat grinder, Beal reflected on his season-long gripe with the officials.
“For me, off ball is one of the things I wrestle with refs all the time about because you’re supposed to have freedom of movement,” Beal said. “And half the time, I don’t even have freedom to even go touch my teammate on the shoulder if I wanted to. It’s just those things that are frustrating — things that are blatant and obvious that should be called and not called. But . . . I got to be better at being more physical, get open. Stop complaining, and we just got to be better at screening for each other.”
With 2:26 remaining in the first half, Beal’s cold snap finally ended. He drove past the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley and reached the rim before 7-foot center Ivica Zubac could close in, scoring his first basket.
After halftime, Beal’s struggles continued: He missed three of his four attempts in the third quarter. But the second unit brought Washington within single digits in the fourth. Although the Wizards trimmed their deficit to 113-109 at 6:34 — when Beal made his first (and only) three-pointer — they could not draw any closer. Beal finished 5 for 18 for 20 points.
The Clippers shot 52.1 percent overall and 37.5 percent from the three-point arc. Although the Wizards got 61 points from the bench — Davis Bertans led the team with 25 points, and Troy Brown Jr. finished with a season-best 22 — they fell after again forsaking the defensive end. It didn’t help that the Wizards were facing the Clippers for the second time in eight days.
“We’re still trying to improve,” Leonard said. “We’ve got to use these games as practice because we [don’t] really get a chance to get in the gym together.”
Although the Clippers have rarely practiced together, that didn’t hurt them in their first matchup with Washington: Their talented roster wrecked the Wizards’ defense in a 150-125 win Dec. 1.
The rematch gave Brown a chance at redemption. He struggled in his matchups in Los Angeles, then surrendered his position in the starting lineup to Isaac Bonga. This time, Brown looked more decisive and confident. In the first half, he made a pair of three-pointers — the first time since Oct. 30 he has hit two or more in a game — as he scored 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
“For me, it was just being able to get the touches that I would like to get,” he said. “I’ve been struggling shooting this season, but today I just came out confident, just playing my game and playing with confidence.”
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