Washington enters the all-star break 9-9 against teams with .500 records or better.
Thursday’s win over the Clippers (24-14) kept a two-loss blip from becoming a worrisome streak and ensured the Wizards enter their five-day vacation with a 7-3 record over their past 10 games.
“It’s great. We wanted to come in and win,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said on a postgame videoconference. “We knew — Paul George said it was a must-win for them, so we knew that they were going to be locked in. . . . It’s going to be a nice break away with the win, but we know that we have our work cut out for us [on the other side].”
Not everyone, of course, will be resting this weekend: Bradley Beal, an all-star starter for the first time, was selected to team captain Kevin Durant’s roster. The St. Louis native achieves another long-held dream with his selection in that he will team up with his close childhood friend Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics for the first time.
But first, Beal wrapped up the first half of his season by leading six Wizards in double figures Thursday with 33 points, including 14 at the foul line. Russell Westbrook had 27 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists to make up for his poor shooting at the foul line – he made 7 of 15.
Both performances encapsulated the Wizards’ night: They weren’t perfect, but they showed up when it mattered most.
Washington came back from a 16-point first-half deficit, only securing the win after Westbrook flew in from the wing to tap the rebound from Rui Hachimura’s missed free throw out to Beal in the closing seconds.
“I saw a red jersey flying out of nowhere,” Beal said. “Then I knew it had to be Russ, because nobody else is doing that.”
Although a three-pointer from Moritz Wagner put them ahead for good with 3:15 remaining, the Clippers trailed by one with seven seconds to go before Hachimura made the first of two free throws.
Wagner finished with 12 points. Davis Bertans and Raul Neto had 11 points each.
Leonard led Los Angeles with 22 points. Patrick Beverley added 17. The Clippers were without George, who did not play because of dizziness.
Hachimura played a huge role in helping Washington come back in the second half.
He was an aggressive, driving force during a third-quarter surge after a less organized second quarter left Washington trailing 61-54 at halftime. Hachimura scored the first six points of the second half to spur a 12-0 run that helped the Wizards pull even after 36 minutes.
“I thought we came out in the third quarter and we made a little bit of an adjustment,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “One was just getting our mind right and not worrying about anything but playing basketball. . . . I thought Rui did a great job of guarding [Leonard] tonight.”
Both teams shot well from three and both unlocked critical role players: the Clippers had Luke Kennard, who entered the fourth quarter having made 4 of 4 attempts from the three-point line, and Washington leaned on Bertans, who had five points — a three and a dunk — in the final 83 seconds of the period.
The Wizards opened just how they wanted to this time around, with solid, energetic defense that held the Clippers to 38.1 percent shooting, low turnovers and an energetic Westbrook leading the way. It helped that Los Angeles had eight turnovers itself in the first 12 minutes.
Washington’s more aggressive physicality was remarkably different from their first meeting against the Clippers, which came on the second half of a back-to-back last week. It’s a large part of what they want to carry into the second half of the season, which begins March 10 in Memphis.
“That’s the main thing with us, we’ve got to be physical,” Wagner said. “We have to be that team . . . play hard all game. If you suck that day, you sucked that day, but at least you played hard. At least that’s how I think every day. I might look awful out there, but at least I hit somebody.”