The Washington Wizards could not afford a sloppy game Friday night. With the top team in the Eastern Conference in town, mistakes were magnified and promptly punished. That truth was never so evident than in the game’s final two minutes.
Trailing by four, the Wizards put the ball in Bradley Beal’s hands. Instead of delivering a clutch basket, the all-star lost his dribble near the baseline and forced a bad pass that led to a turnover. On the other end, Toronto’s all-star DeMar DeRozan pulled up for a backbreaking jumper.
The Wizards never got closer than five the rest of the way, their mistakes leading to a 102-95 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The turnovers were puzzling — a sure-handed ballhandler like Tomas Satoransky dribbled into crowds, a skilled wing like Otto Porter Jr. forgot the dimensions of the court and stepped out of bounds — but perhaps a sign of a trend since Washington (36-27) had lost Wednesday night to the defending champion Golden State Warriors because of too many wasted possessions.
That lesson failed to resonate days later as the Wizards committed 17 turnovers that led to 27 points for Toronto (44-17).
“When we play against those good teams,” forward Markieff Morris said, “our mistakes must be limited. We can’t have [17 turnovers] or 20-something turnovers or not switch on screens and give up wide-open threes or not get back in transition.
“When you play against the best teams in the league, you’ve got to bring it.”
Besides sabotaging themselves, the Wizards were undone by the Raptors’ second unit. Inside a subdued Wizards locker room, players spoke in whispers and bemoaned the team defensive effort — particularly against backup guard C.J. Miles, who Scott Brooks called the “wild card.” Miles spotted up or ran off curls, untouched, and hit 6 of 9 shots from beyond the three-point arc, scoring 20 of the Raptors’ 50 bench points.
Miles outscored the entire Wizards bench, which produced just 15 points. Afterward, the one defender primarily assigned to stop Miles’s dribble handoffs and stay attached to his hips admitted personal failure as well as recognized the shortcomings of his bench teammates.
“I’m going to put it on myself. I didn’t play with energy I normally play with,” Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “Everyone in the second unit was negative [in plus-minus]. The first unit did a really good job of coming out hot and on top and once we got in there, we blew a 14-point lead. . . . We just didn’t have it tonight and their second unit, knowing they’re the best second unit in the league right now, we didn’t handle business.”
Brooks was named the Eastern Conference coach of the month after Washington spent February racking up wins against top teams like Toronto. In fact, Beal first dropped the “everybody eats” line after the team collected 30 assists in the Feb. 1 win over the Raptors.
Before the rematch on Friday, Brooks addressed his award, capturing the same spirit of Beal’s catchphrase.
“It’s says a lot about our organization. We lost one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said, referring to the absence of John Wall to left knee surgery. He could return before the end of this month.
“It’s not easy to overcome that on the fly, that position in particular with the point guard. He’s the coach on the floor,” Brooks continued. “But everybody rallied around it. I have a great staff that works and continues to put ourselves in a position to win games.”
After spending February sharing the ball, as well as the praise, Washington needed another collective effort to start March.
This time, it didn’t come.
“They’ve been one of the hottest teams, if not the hottest team in the league,” Beal said. “They’ve been playing at a high level, averaging 50 points off the bench. Those were one of our points of emphasis coming into the game. We just got to be better all around. It’s not just the bench’s fault.”
In the opening quarter, when the Raptors couldn’t hit an outside shot (0 for 7 from the arc), Toronto adapted and capitalized on quick scores off turnovers (six points directly after Washington’s mistakes).
Then, the Raptors showed their depth. When starting center Jonas Valanciunas had to go to the bench with two early fouls, his departure only started the procession of the Raptors’ impressive second unit. Toronto’s bench chipped away at Washington’s 14-point lead.
Though the Toronto starters shot blanks from the perimeter, the reserves settled the second quarter by knocking down 3 of 4 three-pointers. In the frame, the bench unit (18 points) nearly matched the Wizards’ team total (20) and Toronto moved ahead with a 51-47 halftime advantage.
The Wizards responded by leaning heavily on Porter, who played the entire third quarter. While Beal turned cold in missing four of five shots, Porter took over the offensive alpha role, hitting four shots from the field to go with four free throws.
Porter scored only three in the fourth quarter to finish with a game-high 24 points, but Beal took over, scoring eight of his 23 in the final period. But his only turnover of the game came when the Wizards needed to execute most, and Washington was unable to recover.
“We were trying to make some more ball movement and we’re slipping up a little bit too many times,” Brooks said. “It’s costing us leads. It’s costing us ballgames. We’ve got to clean it up.”