Throughout a 140-132 win over the Suns, the Wizards felt good and shot even better.
Against the Suns, Washington (6-10) made 19 of 35 three-pointers as eight of the 10 rotation players connected on at least one. Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Jordan McRae shot exceptionally well and as a trio shared 11 makes. As a team, Washington shot 57 percent overall and a blistering 54 percent from beyond the arc.
Beal finished with a game-best 35 points (11 of 18 overall, 4 of 6 from the arc) and six assists while Thomas Bryant survived early foul trouble for 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Ish Smith also came off the bench to provide 21 points and seven assists. Along with Bertans (16 points and four threes), Wagner (11) and McRae (11), the Wizards’ bench, the second-highest scoring unit in the league, pelted the Suns for 59 points.
It was enough to make a crooner of Wagner.
Even though the Wizards allowed Phoenix to erase a 21-point lead, cutting it to four with about three minutes to play, they remained stable enough to win an important road game on the second night of a back-to-back and recuperate from their momentary loss of identity.
“We just shared the ball on offense and we really had fun out there,” Bertans said. “Shots were falling. We had a lot of good looks. I think yesterday in Denver we also had plenty of good looks in the first half, they just didn’t go down and tonight everything was falling. It made it a lot easier.”
On Tuesday night in Denver, Washington’s offense looked aimless. Players misfired on 30 of their 40 three-point attempts and when the shooting did not make up for the defensive lapses, the Wizards lost 117-104. By Wednesday morning, players revealed Coach Scott Brooks had delivered a strong critique of the Wizards’ performance in the team’s breakfast meeting.
“Coach got on us about it,” Smith said. “I thought we responded really well, and I think that’s a tribute to who coach is. Turn the page. Next game. He’s always talking to us about building our identity.”
Added Beal: “It’s probably the first time he’s done it all year. It was definitely well needed for everybody.”
Heeding their coach’s words, Washington found looks within the arc and began the game hitting seven of its first 10 shots. Then, just as it seemed as though the starting five had intentionally eschewed the shot that had given the team so much trouble the previous night, the Wizards’ bench stretched the range.
McRae hit the first three-pointer for the Wizards. Bertans followed with two consecutive deep looks and McRae added another. Just after Bertans launched again from beyond the arc, Beal waited beneath the rim, his arms outstretched in pre-celebration for the bench duo’s fifth straight three.
Before the end of the opening quarter, McRae, Bertans and the rest of the Wizards’ second unit had scored 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting.
“We’ve got playmakers,” McRae said, “We get in the lane and have shooters, so I think that’s good for us.”
In the second quarter, Beal tried driving to the rim but official Tony Brothers called him for an offensive foul. The Wizards complained, then challenged the call and were successful in getting it overturned. On the reset, Beal decided to stay far away from the paint and while shooting over a Bryant screen, he made his first three-pointer of the game.
Still, the Suns didn’t go quietly. Despite hitting 10 of their first 11 from the arc, the Wizards lead was only 74-69 at halftime.
Phoenix didn’t rely so much on the deep shot but sizzled offensively as well. Former Wizards player Kelly Oubre Jr. nailed a pair of threes and big man Cheick Diallo made all five of his shots in the first half.
Finally, the breakthrough came in the third quarter as Washington opened a 21-point lead. The Wizards protected their advantage through a hectic final quarter. The Suns didn’t go away and their three-point shots started falling. However, when Phoenix pulled to within 124-120, Beal willed himself to the free throw line on the next play. Later, Isaiah Thomas hit another three to provide more separation.
When Devin Booker, who finished with 27 points, bricked a three off the backboard in the closing seconds, the missed shot all but ensured the Wizards would survive the late rally. Players on the sideline relaxed and the good feelings returned.
“This was an important game for us, especially a back-to-back that we didn’t really compete well last night,” Bertans said. “Coming back and just playing with energy and playing good basketball was really important and getting a win was even better.”