The Wizards' 101-99 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night extended their home winning streak to 10 games and pushed them past the .500 mark for the first time this season, yet in many ways it wasn't pretty. It was a win, but also a learning lesson moving forward.
They were playing a Bulls team that was missing its two best players in Jimmy Butler (illness) and Dwyane Wade (rest), as well as one of its best bench scorers in Nikola Mirotic (illness). Still, the Bulls were able to hold a double-digit lead at the end of the first quarter (36-26) and at halftime (61-49). The NBA's worst three-point shooting team, Chicago hit 8-of-10 from long range in the first half. Rookie Denzel Valentine set a career-high by halftime with 14 points.
It was not an ideal start by any stretch.
"We figured Jimmy [Butler] wasn’t playing, D-Wade wasn’t playing, the game was going to be easy," guard Bradley Beal said. "Those games are probably the hardest ones to play in. We just have to do a better job of locking in, but a win is a win at the end of the day."
"They're still NBA players. I think in the first half we disrespected them, and laid down," forward Markieff Morris said. "They had thirty-six in the first quarter, like I said without their two best players, and that's unacceptable."
Morris went on to describe the first half as "horrible." Head coach Scott Brooks used the word "exhausting" in his assessment. The game ultimately resulted in a win, but what happened on Tuesday night has hurt them before.
On Sunday in Milwaukee, they barely beat the Bucks despite Giannis Antetokounmpo not playing. Seven times this year have they allowed at least 60 points in the first half, including to struggling teams like the Heat, Nets, Mavericks and Magic. They are 2-5 in those games. The Wizards, in fact, are 2-12 in games they allow 57 points or more in the first half.
In order to win a game after giving up so much in the first two quarters, much has to change in the second half, like on Tuesday when they held the Bulls to just 38 total points in the third and fourth quarters. Chicago shot just 2-of-17 from three in the second half, including 0-for-9 in the third quarter.
"They were just too comfortable. In the first half, we just allowed them to do whatever they wanted. They were freelancing, getting to the basket, knocking down threes, getting comfortable," Beal said. "In the second half we just wanted to pressure them [and] make them play our style of game, and force them to play our hand."
The Wizards now move on to Boston to face the Celtics on Wednesday night in the second game of a back-to-back set. The Wizards are 1-6 in those scenarios this season.
"Boston's a good team. If we play like this, it will be hard to win," Brooks said.