With Washington up one and less than a minute to play, forward Rui Hachimura got in Jimmy Butler’s face, fought for a rebound and ended up with a jump ball. Miami won the tip but couldn’t convert, with Washington backup center Alex Len grabbing a critical rebound. Seconds later, Len, a Maryland product, contested Goran Dragic’s shot on the Heat’s next possession to keep the Wizards in the lead.
Bradley Beal iced the game at the free throw line with six seconds to play to lift Washington to 5-13. Miami, after a surprise trip to the NBA Finals in October, fell to 7-14.
“[Butler] is one of those guys, he’ll try to get into your body,” Hachimura said of the late sequence. “You have to be strong. He had like five, six, offensive rebounds, so I just knew he was going to jump.”
It wasn’t just in the final minute that the defense showed up.
A clumsy but uplifting third quarter gave the Wizards the boost they needed heading into the fourth. The Wizards’ offense was sloppy, but that didn’t make a difference in light of one of their best defensive stretches of the season. Washington held Miami to 17 points on 27 percent shooting as the game’s pace slowed, and the Wizards were able to lock in.
“We didn’t turn it over. We didn’t take bad shots,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said of his team’s effort in the third quarter. “We need to control the game. . . . I thought the second half we just controlled the tempo and we just chipped away at the lead.”
Washington had seven offensive rebounds as the Heat ceded the momentum it built at the end of the first half, when it built a 65-55 lead at intermission.
Beal led all scorers with 32 points on 11-for-23 shooting even though Miami homed in on him all night. The Heat was patient, didn’t bite at the guard’s usual fakes and double- and triple-teamed him every time he was inside the arc.
“What he’s doing offensively, you don’t see it often,” Brooks said. “You don’t see it. Obviously James Harden had it the last few years, but Brad’s doing it, he’s doing it without having the ball in his hand throughout the game. . . . He can score in so many different ways. That’s why it’s hard to guard him.”
His performance, customary though it was, made history. Beal has at least 25 points in each of his 17 games this season, breaking Michael Jordan’s record for the longest such streak to start a season since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976.
“It's pretty cool. That's a remarkable achievement,” Beal said. “It's not something you always shoot for, but it's amazing to see all the stats that we come up with in our game, and it's — too pass him, it's always a great feeling. It's something you kind of put in your accolades, but at the same time, it felt even better getting it in a win. It was a milestone in a lot of fashions tonight, so I was happy.”
He also became the second player in Wizards history to pass 12,000 career points. Beal passed the mark with a left-handed layup in the second quarter to join Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes, who spent nine seasons with Washington — including the championship campaign in 1978 — and racked up more than 27,000 in his career overall.
Starting wing Deni Avdija added 13 points on an encouraging shooting night. Hachimura had 11 points and nine rebounds. The team was without Russell Westbrook, who rested on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Wizards got off to a much better start than they had the previous two games thanks to generous help from Miami’s poor perimeter defense. Nine three-pointers nearly nullified Washington’s early turnovers until Tyler Herro got hot at the end of the second quarter and poured in 11 points in just under three minutes to lead the Heat on a 16-3 run to close the half.