When the three-pointers are falling and the good vibes are flowing, Otto Porter Jr. celebrates his shots with a signature pose. As he jogs back on defense, Porter leans forward, holding three fingers so close to the court he could pick up loose change.
On Friday night, the threes kept falling, the vibes were right, and Porter often did his thing in the Washington Wizards’ 121-103 win over the Houston Rockets.
Porter made the deep perimeter his home against the NBA’s leading three-point shooting team. In the first quarter, Porter’s three makes from beyond the arc matched the team total for the Rockets. He added three more in the fourth, getting an early rest as Washington turned a showdown with one of the top teams in the Western Conference into a blowout.
Porter’s seven three-pointers tied a career high and he finished with a game-high 26 points (on 9-for-16 shooting) to go with a team-high seven assists. Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. added 21 points each, and John Wall finished with 17 and four assists but defined his game on the defensive end with five steals.
As a team, the Wizards torched Houston, making 18 of 36 from beyond the arc as five players hit at least a pair of threes. The Rockets entered the matchup shooting 42.9 percent from outside but against the Wizards made just 14 of 48.
Just another night for the split-personality Wizards, who beat the Rockets at home for the first time since 2013. For the second time this week, Washington outplayed one of the best teams in the NBA, sandwiching the wins over Boston and Houston with a pitiful effort Wednesday in a loss at Atlanta.
“We can’t come out and have great games against Boston and Houston, two of the top teams in the conferences, and then lay eggs against the teams who we should quote-unquote beat,” Beal said. “It’s up to us players. We’ve got to stay locked in, stay locked in to what has gotten us this far with how we’ve had success and just keep rolling with it.”
Everything that ailed the Wizards (20-16) during their loss to the last-place Hawks just 48 hours earlier — scattered defense, missing vigor and poor shooting — suddenly was cured against one of the best teams in the NBA.
Although the Rockets have dropped five straight and arrived in Washington still stinging from a loss Thursday night in Boston that included a blown 26-point lead, the team remained only 2 1/2 games behind Golden State for the best record in the West, pending the Warriors’ late game against Charlotte.
“We moved the ball. A lot of guys in double figures. We didn’t care who was getting shots, just played team basketball and team defense,” Wall summarized. “It’s simple. When we play the good teams, we do that. We come out and play well. We play with a lot of energy. We have to find a way to keep this going when we play a team that’s subpar, [under] .500 and play the same exact way and don’t worry about other stuff we worry about.”
The Wizards took an 11-point lead into halftime by keeping Houston (25-9) out of its rhythm on the perimeter. The Rockets made just five of their 25 first-half three-point attempts, and their 48 points stand as their lowest first-half output of the season.
The win is even more impressive considering it came with both of Houston’s all-star guards in the lineup. Chris Paul returned after missing the previous three games, though he appeared to play a bit passive in 26 minutes and finished with eight points and six assists. James Harden finished with 20 points, well under his league-leading 32.5 average.
Houston fell to 15-2 when Harden and Paul play together.
“I’d like to say that we were making them miss, but they did miss some shots,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “It felt like they were a little tired, but I’m not taking anything away from our guys. We were as good defensively as we have been. This is the best offensive team in basketball, and they’re not easy to guard. They took 48 threes, they space the floor, [and] they have two amazing point guards.”
Following the loss in Atlanta on Wednesday night, the Wizards’ leaders introduced the idea that the team struggles with moments of selfishness. Beal cited the lack of ball movement. Wall believed the worst teams of the league bring out ugly behaviors — individuals try to play for stats. By Friday night, Brooks gave lengthy responses when asked whether players have veered away from team basketball.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re a selfish team, but I think there are times we have been and we need to get better with that,” Brooks said. “We’ve lost some games. Our players have talked about it. I’ve talked about it with them.”
Although shot-hunting and stat-padding seem hallmarks of selfish play, Brooks, while speaking in general terms, noted how that attitude also could manifest itself on the defensive end.
It was absent Friday night. The Wizards made concerted efforts not to overreact on ball screens involving the Rockets’ playmaking point guards and big men. So selflessness in the first half looked like Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi playing on an island against Paul and Harden. Early in the opening quarter while defending Paul one-on-one, Gortat restricted the tentative guard from the paint. Later, Mahinmi checked into the game and got switched onto Harden, forcing him into two misses on the same play.
Matching the defensive energy, the overall enthusiasm lacking in Atlanta could not be contained on the sideline when reserve point guard Tomas Satoransky tomahawk dunked over Rockets 7-foot-1 center Zhou Qi. Gortat hopped in delight, and Jason Smith left the bench and moved to the baseline so that he could rejoice more freely.
“It’s kind of a relief, right, that I’m still able to do that because I started thinking I don’t have it in me,” said Satoransky, who has been teased by teammates for only dunking in practice, then ranked this slam among his many others in Europe. “It’s [my] first in the NBA, so it has to be top five.”