Keeping giddy fans and their plastic cups of beer at bay was the only time the Wizards whiffed on defense Monday night.
Washington beat the Detroit Pistons, 115-99, limiting the Pistons’ chances and not allowing center Andre Drummond’s big statistical night to affect the outcome. The Wizards held Detroit to 41.5 percent shooting on 82 shot attempts — 11 fewer than they hoisted on the other end. Drummond finished with 15 points and 24 rebounds, but his numbers did not harm the Wizards, who were only outrebounded 42-41.
After three straight losses and two consecutive games with absentee defense, the Wizards (2-4) recaptured the identity they want to have this season: a team that overcomes its deficiencies by playing hard.
“It was just all our defense and energy,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said.
Beal poured in 22 points, finishing as one of six Wizards players who reached double figures, and added six assists. The Wizards received 53 points from the bench, including double-digit efforts from Troy Brown Jr. (14 points), Moritz Wagner (12) and CJ Miles (12). Starters Thomas Bryant (14) and Rui Hachimura (12) also joined the double-figure club.
Thomas, making his first start since March 14, 2018, joined Beal in the backcourt and finished with nine points on 4-for-12 shooting and six assists.
At the time of Thomas’s previous start, he was still with the Los Angeles Lakers and just weeks from having a hip procedure. He spent the next season with the Denver Nuggets, recovering as an afterthought on a team with aspirations of contending in the Western Conference.
This summer, when Thomas signed a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with the Wizards, he was eager for this day, to prove his hip issues had passed and that he has a lot left in his 30-year-old tank.
“It’s been a long road the last couple years,” Thomas said. “Just really to put in the work to finally get healthy and to be able to start says a lot about what I’ve done the last two years, but my biggest thing is just taking advantage of the opportunity, whether I start or come off the bench. I know who I am. I know I’m one of the best basketball players in the world, so I mean, that doesn’t affect me. I approach the game the same way, but I am happy to be starting.”
The chip nestled on his shoulder wouldn’t allow Thomas to simply ease back into the rotation the way the Wizards’ medical staff wanted. Thomas, who missed the first two games rehabilitating from left thumb surgery, played on a minutes restriction but longed for more.
Against the Pistons, Thomas played a normal rotation for a starting point guard. He stirred in the right amount of facilitation in his 24 minutes while also searching for his own shot within the offense. While speaking to reporters after the game, Thomas pulled back the curtain a bit and expressed the significance behind Monday’s matchup.
“There were dark days. I mean, it’s rehab,” Thomas recalled. “For me to go through that for two years, it was tough, I’m not going to lie to you, and it did break me at times. But like I said before, it can’t storm forever. The sun has to come out at some point.”
Thomas came to Washington because the team was forthright about giving him an opportunity, and it hasn’t taken long for Thomas to be ingrained in the character of the Wizards. He was the most vocal veteran Saturday night after a disappointing effort against the Minnesota Timberwolves, sparing no feelings about the 131-109 loss.
“Tonight was a big night for us because we talked about that after last game, that we can’t ever have that happen again,” Thomas said. “That was embarrassing, from top to bottom in the organization. We can’t let that happen. I think tonight, we just played hard.”
After giving up 290 points in back-to-back losses last week, the Wizards found an opponent more palatable to defend.
Entering the game, Detroit ranked 19th in the NBA in pace, measured by the number of possessions a team has per game, 28th in three-point attempts and 29th in overall field goal attempts. The Pistons play so slow that it’s not unusual to watch Drummond, their 6-foot-11, 279-pound center, traipse upcourt to lead a fast break.
So if there was ever a time for the Wizards to work on communicating better in transition, defending the arc and lowering their season average of 121.4 points allowed, Monday was it. With the Pistons staying true to their identity, the Wizards looked like a more whole defensive squad.
Washington held Detroit to just 38 points in the second half, including just 17 during a third quarter in which it turned a two-point halftime lead into an 18-point advantage by the final minute of the period. As Thomas kept cycling near the drinking fans, his teammates continued the bounce-back performance. Wagner blocked three shots in the first five minutes of the quarter, the Pistons wasted other possessions on turnovers, and the Wizards pulled away, snapping a trend of poor defense.
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