Washington Wizards Coach Scott Brooks saw it coming and warned anyone who’d listen.
When the third quarter strikes, watch out for the Golden State Warriors. If the Warriors weren’t fearsome enough with their four all-stars and two former MVPs, their lineup becomes even more terrifying after some recovery and halftime adjustments.
“That’s their quarter,” Brooks said before the Wizards fell to the champs Wednesday night, 109-101. “You can’t rest.”
Brooks was right. When the teams returned from halftime, a two-point game at intermission turned into a double-digit Golden State lead entering the fourth quarter at Capital One Arena.
The Warriors (48-14) score a league-best 30.9 points in the third quarter. Count it a small victory that Washington held Golden State to under its average, but the 27-14 advantage in the quarter essentially ended a competitive game and a chance at a defining win for the Wizards (36-26).
“We just couldn’t score in the first quarter and the third quarter,” Brooks said referencing the rough start in which Washington fell into a 15-point deficit. “It’s been unusual for us lately. We have been able to score in the third quarter. This team is one of the best, if not the best, third-quarter team in basketball and we only had 14 points. We couldn’t stay up. They didn’t have a crazy number at 27 [points] but we just couldn’t score in that third quarter.”
With all-star point guard John Wall still in a suit on the sideline as he recovers from left knee surgery, Washington collected more assists than Golden State through two quarters (17 to 15) and trailed just 58-56 — despite an abysmal night from Bradley Beal (eight points on 3 of 15 from the floor).
The Wizards shot just 40 percent in the first half, yet almost inconceivably they were right in the game. Then the third quarter arrived.
“They just knocked down some shots,” Otto Porter Jr. said, simplifying the Warriors’ 10-of-18 efficiency in the quarter. “We mentally kind of broke down a little bit. Just simple mistakes on our part. They’re a good team. They’re going to capitalize off our mistakes.”
In that frame, the Warriors stealthily moved backdoor for points in the paint and hissed three-pointers with blink-and-you-miss-it haste. They weren’t perfect — committing four turnovers and making a trio of those eight long-distant shots — but they played far better than the Wizards.
That quarter only magnified the Wizards’ biggest issue on the night: Eight of Washington’s 18 turnovers came during the stretch and overall, Golden State cashed in those giveaways for 26 points.
Five Golden State players finished in double figures, led by Kevin Durant’s game-high 32 points. Stephen Curry did not shoot the ball well (5 of 15) but still scored 25 thanks to 11 free throws mixed in with four three-pointers.
Although Porter countered with 29 points and 10 rebounds and Markieff Morris produced 16 and nine, the Warriors could live with these efforts because they primarily pledged to shut down Beal.
“We wanted to put as many bodies on him as possible,” Durant said of defending Beal. “It’s hard for a player to make shots in that type of defense where we trap him, chasing him off the line, we’re meeting him as soon as he dribbles the ball.”
Flashback to the Oct. 27 matchup when Washington lost to the Warriors, 120-117, at Oracle Arena. Though it was the fifth game of the season, the Wizards’ ball movement stood out — even all these months later, as Brooks reflected on that night before the rematch — and the team built an 18-point lead inside a raucous venue in which many other teams fall apart. However Beal played just 15 minutes after being ejected along with Draymond Green for a tussle late in the first half.
Beal, who said he has been “cool” with Green, had seen him a couple weeks ago during the all-star break, and any festering resentments had been cleared up with a friendly dap.
“The Draymond thing, that’s long and done. That’s over,” Beal said. “There’s no problem there.”
Beal wasn’t looking forward to this matchup for payback. Instead, Beal wanted a do-over because the last time — by his own admission — he had a “bad game” in missing five of his seven shot attempts before the ejection.
But in searching for rhythm Wednesday night, Beal found only more complications.
“All eyes are on him right now,” Durant said, continuing his scouting report on Beal. “I’m sure everybody in the league has a game plan for him that way. So it’s not that Brad’s not a good player, he wasn’t a good player tonight. I think we locked in a little bit more on him just by himself as one of their only scoring threats at the wing, a guy that can go off and score a lot of points. We just wanted to make sure we had all eyes on him.”
A bricked three-pointer, a blown pullup, a sloppy step-back — the misses piled up and Beal could not connect on his first nine attempts. As the game progressed, he became more facilitator than shot-maker.
Beal finally got on the scoreboard at the 5:19 mark of the third with a long jumper and the Wizards trailed 77-70. Not an insurmountable deficit. However, the Warriors activated their jets — Durant sliced behind defenders for the layup off a pass from Green. Before the public address announcer could bellow the final syllable of “Durant,” Curry had intercepted the inbounds pass from Wizards center Ian Mahinmi then stepped behind the left arc for a three. Just like that, the lead was 12.
On the next possession, Curry’s on-ball defense caused Beal to dribble too long then force a late pass to Mike Scott and the Wizards committed another turnover with the shot-clock violation.
“We wish we could’ve won and I definitely blame myself for it but at the end of the day, we still lost by . . . eight and I had eight points,” Beal said. “If you put that in perspective, we definitely could’ve won the game. If we didn’t get off to the start we had, it could’ve been different.”