Whenever the Washington Wizards attempt to play isolation basketball, they take on a spirit of every shooter for himself. It happens late during tight games, when the offense grows predictable and tenuous: one pass in a half-court possession, if they're lucky, and a shot is going up.
On Saturday night, this habit suffocated the Wizards' offense when they desperately needed a basket in the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets. John Wall tried to save the team by himself with nine seconds remaining in regulation and the score tied, but his dribbling only created an off-target fadeaway from the baseline, putting the Wizards into an uncomfortable overtime situation.
The Wizards finally made the extra pass in the extra period, hitting their first three shots to capture a 119-113 win.
Wall found Marcin Gortat for the first midrange make. Then, Wall and Bradley Beal connected on consecutive possessions. Playing their natural roles, Wall delivered the passes and Beal knocked down the jumpers — from 19 feet, then a dagger from beyond the arc to secure the Wizards' first overtime victory of the season in three tries.
Although Wall later created two shots for himself, the Wizards' three consecutive assisted field goals toppled the Nets in this game of survival at Capital One Arena. Washington (25-18) managed to hold on after losing a 23-point lead.
"The whole second half was just nasty for us — period," Wall said. "We gave them life, let them back into the game."
Wall finished with 23 points, but his 16 assists, especially in crucial moments late, guided Washington to its lone regular season win over Brooklyn. Beal led all scorers with 24 points, his 10th straight game with at least 20. Every starter finished in double figures, as did backup forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (17 points).
But, as Coach Scott Brooks reviewed the team's second win in as many nights, he noted the numerous flaws.
"We relaxed. We were up 23 and had a chance to go up 25 [or] 26 at half," he said. "You give them hope and come out in the third quarter slow, and with their speed, they're not going to stop playing. That's how they play. They play every possession hard. They close out games. It doesn't matter what the score is; they play hard, and they play throughout the game, and we didn't do that."
Saturday night concluded this short and strange regular season series that favored the Nets (16-27), a team likely bound for the draft lottery. The first two games in Brooklyn were so lopsided that eight Nets players had averaged double figures.
However, in Washington on Saturday, the Wizards treated the first half as if their improved effort would somehow erase the previous two blemishes.
Washington slowed Brooklyn's fifth-best pace in the NBA, defending against quick, open shots created by ball movement. When the ball zipped to forward Quincy Acy standing beyond the arc, the Wizards' Markieff Morris was there, leaping, contesting the three-pointer and forcing a miss.
As Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie flashed past the first line of defense and dished to DeMarre Carroll, the forward bobbled the pass while concerned about the Wizards' paint protectors and threw a wild shot at the rim.
By the midway point of the opening quarter, the Wizards had drilled a trio of three-pointers before the Nets had even made their third field goal of the game. This imbalance continued in the second quarter, when at one point Brooklyn's starters totaled 10 points and Beal had 12 by himself, and Washington led 59-39 at halftime.
But the Wizards wouldn't be the Wizards if they didn't squander a big lead. The taut defense they played in the first half never crossed over into the second. And the Nets wouldn't be the Nets if they went an entire game without making Washington look silly.
In the second half, Brooklyn shot 50 percent from the field and scored 15 points after securing offensive rebounds, including Acy's three-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation that tied the score at 107.
"They're scrappy. They don't give up," Beal said. "We had them down 20, which is crazy to think and believe, man, that we gave up that type of lead. We almost tricked it off, but we did a good job of staying poised and executing down the stretch. But this is a team that, regardless of how young they are, regardless of who's on the floor, they're going to play and compete."
In the final five minutes of regulation, Washington settled for and missed long jumpers. Beal couldn't hit his two attempts, and Wall failed on five shots. For the final shot, the Wizards wanted to use all nine seconds on the clock to prevent the Nets from getting another chance. Although Beal was an option on the play, Wall took the safest bet, keeping the ball as to not create a turnover (he had eight on the night) and keeping the game in his hands.
By overtime, however, the Wizards screened and shared the ball with much more fluidity. With the game in control, Wall didn't need the extra pass, rather relying on his one-on-one skills to cross up his defender and elevate for a win-clinching 18-footer with 17 seconds to play. The Nets missed all but one of their eight shots in overtime.
"Lucky we got the win — that's all that matters," Wall said. "But we have to do better. We have to do a lot better."
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