During the Washington Wizards’ longest losing streak of the season, the team’s late-game decision-making could not be ignored. Defensive mistakes, poor shots and bad passes turned tight games into three straight tough losses.
Tuesday night against the Miami Heat, the Wizards cleaned up their execution and held on for a 117-113 overtime win at Capital One Arena.
Signs of bad defense? Not when center Marcin Gortat absorbed contact from Heat forward Justise Winslow, taking the offensive foul and protecting a one-point lead.
Heaps of bricks? This time, Markieff Morris carried his clutch card after Gortat’s sacrifice by drilling a corner three-pointer while falling out of bounds with 1:07 left in the extra period.
And regrettable turnovers? The Wizards spent the final five minutes forcing mistakes (three by the Heat) rather than committing them (one, which did not lead to Miami points, although the team finished with 18 turnovers).
“It was two competitive teams, [and] we both fought,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s one of those games that someone is going to have to come away with a loss. We’ve been in those situations, it feels like, the last three games in a row on our home floor.”
In snapping their three-game losing streak, the Wizards (37-28) moved a half-game closer to reclaiming the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
While playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Heat (34-31, eighth place in the East) relied on its bench, which scored a stunning 64 points. Even as the Wizards tried to protect a two-point lead in the final 3½ minutes of regulation, they competed against the Heat’s starting backcourt along with three reserves (Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Dwyane Wade).
When Bradley Beal made a bad pass, Johnson streaked down the court and scored a tying layup with 3:13 to play. Then, with 22.8 seconds remaining, it was Wade’s turn. The 12-time all-star drove and finished at the rim through contact from Beal, and his three-point play again evened the score. Before the buzzer, Beal’s step-back jumper missed off the rim, forcing overtime.
The foul on Beal recalled the Feb. 8 heartache when the Wizards led by three late in a game against the Boston Celtics when Morris fouled Kyrie Irving as he attempted a shot from beyond the arc. Irving made all three free throws to force overtime, and the bad foul served as a prelude to a Wizards loss.
In the locker room Tuesday night, Beal stated the simple reason things turned out differently this time.
“We needed the win,” he said. “We were going to do whatever it took to get the win. The call was made; we’re not going to argue it. You never want to make that play in that position or be in that position, but it happens. We didn’t cuss each other out. . . . We moved on from it and did a good job of getting stops and playing solid defense in overtime.”
Solid in overtime, but the fact that the Wizards even needed to endure some adversity late in the game should raise concerns.
Washington built an 18-point lead in the first quarter, largely thanks to a sizzling start from the three-point arc. For the game, Washington made 14 of 24 from deep, led by Beal’s efficiency (30 points on 12-of-16 shooting, including 6 of 7 from the three-point line).
If Beal was shaky at the end of the Wizards’ Sunday night loss to the visiting Indiana Pacers — as the primary ballhandler, he committed costly turnovers and missed his final five shots — then he was the exact opposite of that at the start against the Heat.
Less than 2½ minutes into the game, Beal hit his first three: a spot-up look off a drive and kick from point guard Tomas Satoransky. Beal was unflappable while operating in his natural role of scorer, moving off the ball and getting a second spot-up triple, then hitting a floater in the lane to expand the Wizards’ lead to 20-7.
After a Heat miss, Beal grabbed the rebound and reminded everyone that he’s pretty good while handling the ball as well. Beal never gave up his dribble while surveying the floor, then moved around a screen from Gortat and pulled up from 13 feet.
While Beal was on the court in the first quarter, the Wizards outscored Miami by 17 points. When the Heat began to whittle away at the lead — tying the score at 39 before the midway point of the second quarter — Beal again provided the plus/minus advantage.
The score was 39-37 when Beal checked back into the game. When he committed his second foul with 4:35 remaining, Brooks didn’t even look down the bench. Beal remained in and, boosted by his stabilizing presence, the Wizards led by nine at halftime.
This week, Brooks has had to address his allocation of minutes — particularly for Beal, who entered the night tied for the league high in minutes over the past 16 games. On Tuesday, Beal rested near the end of the third quarter and did not pop off the bench until the 9:10 mark of the fourth. But after getting Beal back on the floor, the Wizards soon watched Otto Porter Jr. slowly walk off it.
On the play before Beal checked in, point guard Ramon Sessions attempted a long pass to Porter running in transition. As Porter attempted to bring in the pass, he collided with Wade and collapsed to the floor. Although Porter remained in the game for the next two possessions and even hit an open three-pointer, he checked out with 8:29 left and did not return.
“Bruised hip,” Brooks said. “We will see how he feels [Wednesday] morning at practice.”
The Wizards played the rest of the game with reserve Kelly Oubre Jr. filling in at small forward. In overtime, Morris forced Wade to loft a floater high to the rim. When Heat forward Kelly Olynyk missed the putback, Oubre secured his first rebound of the game. Miami fouled Oubre, who made both free throws to cap a night when the Wizards finally executed in crucial moments.
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