The Washington Wizards beat the Atlanta Hawks 119-116 on Tuesday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...
The Wizards came out of the All-Star break not only riding a hot streak, but also faced a slate of games featuring a host of teams right in their vicinity of the playoff race. What it amounted to was an opportunity to gain ground on teams ahead of them and create some distance between those behind them.
The Wizards were not able to capitalize in their first two tries but got a big one on Tuesday against the eighth-seeded Hawks. They came back from down 10 points to win on the road thanks to a series of late blocks on Trae Young by Kyle Kuzma and Daniel Gafford and some timely buckets by Bradley Beal.
The win pushed the Wizards to 29-32 on the season. They now return home to see the Raptors twice on Thursday and Saturday.
Beal led the way
The Wizards' offense was not there for much of the night, as they played their second straight game without Kristaps Porzingis and Monte Morris. But Beal found an early rhythm with 13 points in the first quarter and kept it rolling en route to 37 points for the night. He shot 17-for-30, a ton of attempts but he made 56.7% of them, and also added seven assists. He was the best player on the floor and the Wizards needed everything he had to get the win.
Beal helped polish off the victory with two clutch shots in the final minute. He hit a 19-foot pull-up jumper in between three Hawks defenders with 36 seconds to go, then sank another from about six feet out with eight seconds on the clock. That one put the Wizards up 119-116, as they held on after Young missed two three attempts just before the final buzzer. Beal had 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Kuzma was aggressive
With Porzingis and Morris out, the Wizards' strategy early on was pretty clearly to get Kuzma the ball and for Kuzma to force his way to the rim. Kuzma scored the Wizards' first six points that way, hitting two shots on floaters in the lane and then two free throws after getting fouled on a similar attempt. The method worked initially, as Kuzma found a quick rhythm to score 14 points in the first half.
Later on, Kuzma got some threes to fall and ended up with 28 points on 10-for-26 shooting from the field. It wasn't his most efficient game, but he made two threes early in the fourth quarter that really seemed to breathe life into the Wizards. His block on Young with 1:32 left was also pivotal, as the Wizards were nursing a one-point lead at the time.
Lack of threes
The Wizards seem to miss Porzingis and Morris in particular for their three-point shooting. They struggled from long range, just as they did against the Bulls on Sunday. In this one, they shot just 6-for-21 from the perimeter, good for 28.6%. They only had three threes in the first three quarters.
The attempts stood out as much as anything. The Wizards hadn't taken as few as 21 threes since December and it was tied for their second-fewest of the season overall. They have not only shot a much higher percentage as of late, they have also improved their overall volume. This game was a departure from that, perhaps as a direct result of missing Porzingis, who makes a lot of threes, and Morris, who is one of their most accurate long-range marksmen.
Avdija on the glass
One bright spot throughout this game was the rebounding of Deni Avdija. He had eight boards in the first quarter, matching the Hawks as a team. Avdija had 10 rebounds by halftime and finished the night with 13, including four on the offensive end. It wasn't his best shooting night, as he went 2-for-9, but he found other ways to contribute.
Avdija's improvement as a rebounder this season may be an underrated example of his development. He's posting a career-high 6.2 rebounds per game, also with a career-high in rebounds per-36 minutes (8.5). In this game, he helped the Wizards enjoy a 48-to-42 edge on the boards against the Hawks overall.