But for one night, at least, Washington formed a modified version of a Big Two. And it didn’t involve Beal.
The Wizards spoiled Oklahoma City’s home opener, 97-85, behind the leading efforts of center Thomas Bryant and rookie forward Rui Hachimura. Bryant paced the Wizards with 21 points and 11 rebounds, logging his second consecutive double-double, and Hachimura added 19 points.
With about a minute remaining as Thunder fans began moving toward the exits, Bryant yelled to no one but himself, “Hell, yeah!”
The quiet one of this outfit, Hachimura proved again to be more capable than your average rookie, posting his second straight game in double figures on 8-for-20 shooting.
Together, the soft-spoken Hachimura and the excitable Bryant made for a dynamic tandem.
Bryant stepped back for three-pointers. Hachimura recognized mismatches and fearlessly moved around smaller opponents into the paint. Bryant excelled defensively, even while matching up with a bigger center in Steven Adams. Then, with 4:27 remaining and the score tied at 83, the two made clutch plays to power the Wizards’ game-changing run.
Hachimura held on to the ball, waiting to find Beal, but finally decided to take control himself and moved past Danilo Gallinari for a hook shot that snapped the tie.
“Just him staying poised and being aggressive,” Bryant said of Hachimura. “Sticking to the game plan, day in and day out. Just taking it day by day. He’s not forcing anything. He’s letting the game come to him, and when he sees openings, he’s aggressive with them.”
On the next defensive possession, Bryant intercepted an entry pass, leading to Davis Bertans pulling up for a transition three-pointer. Moments later, Bryant found Beal cutting to the lane and flexed after the assist. Despite Chris Paul in the Thunder’s lineup, the Wizards had more assists on the night (21-14).
The 7-0 run catapulted the Wizards to their first win of the season, despite an off night from Beal (7 for 22, 17 points). In two games, Beal has made 14 of 47 attempts.
Bryant’s scoring was as necessary as it was timely. Looming large in the background of his strong offensive night was Washington’s expanding injury list. Jordan McRae underwent surgery Friday in New York for a fractured ring finger. McRae scored 11 points in the opener and provides a veteran presence in Coach Scott Brooks’s rotation.
For a night, they made up for the absence as Bertans (13 points) and Moritz Wagner combined for 20 of the 27 points by the bench. Soon, they will have a steadier supplement with the addition of another seasoned scorer. As the team concludes its trip, Isaiah Thomas expects to make his season debut Saturday in San Antonio.
“If everything goes right, then I should be playing tomorrow hopefully,” Thomas said Friday morning. “That’s definitely a goal of mine. I want to, but it’s just [a decision of] the medical staff.”
Thomas missed all of training camp and preseason while recovering from surgery on his left thumb. During that time, he watched his new teammates and catalogued some of their weaknesses — among them, a complementary scorer to Beal. Thomas, who has averaged 18.6 points in his career, knows he can be that partner.
“I just want to play. I felt really good this summer. I felt really good in September, and then I messed up my thumb,” Thomas said. “It was a minor setback, but I mean, I’m ready to play.”
Note: The NBA denied the Wizards’ application for a second disabled player exception for Wall, who has been recovering from an Achilles’ tendon injury since February. In January, when Wall required season-ending surgery for a bone spurs issue, the team applied for and was granted the exception. A month later, Wall suffered the Achilles’ injury.
With the latest decision, a league-appointed doctor examined Wall and did not rule him out for the entire season. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean Wall will return this year. While the Wizards like what they’re witnessing from Wall’s workouts — he looks strong and moves well while going through shooting drills — they also recognize the benefits of letting him take the season to recover.