NEW YORK – Some leftover thoughts from the Wizards’ 110-107 win against the Knicks Monday night and beyond…
When the Wizards maintain possession in the final minute of a quarter, especially a tight fourth, we know what’s coming if John Wall is on the court. The point guard takes his time surveying the opposing defense while dribbling above the 3-point arc, spots a potential weak area and attacks.
Sometimes that means a penetrating drive into the lane or feeding a teammate. Perhaps settling for a mid-range jumper above the free throw line. Whatever the choice or outcome, the ball is with Wall.
Except it wasn’t Monday night.
The Wizards held a 15-point lead with 3:33 remaining and began playing like a team with a 15-point lead deep into a game. They racked up empty possessions including two brutal turnovers and a missed 14-footer from Wall. New York scored 10 consecutive points including two free throws with 1:02 remaining.
When the Wizards next took over on offense, the ball was with Bradley Beal.
On Washington’s final two possessions, he created space for others and twice passed to open 3-point shooters. Markieff Morris missed the first try, after which the Knicks capped a 12-0 run to pull within three.
On the next trip, Beal penetrated inside the arc and went with a behind-the-back dribble that sent Knicks forward Noah Vonleh to the ground. He rose for a jumper as the shot clock ticked less than five seconds. With a defender contesting, Beal, essentially without looking, kicked the ball to Wall camped out above the arc. Wall splashed the shot and sealed the win.
DAGGERRRRR 🗡️— NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) December 4, 2018
Wizards win!!!! pic.twitter.com/GCkdXktINf
“Just be aggressive, score and attack first,” said Beal, explaining his mindset to NBC Sports Washington on those final possessions. “Once I saw the defense close in, it was just the right thing to do, make the right play.”
He added, “If I feel like I can’t do it, I trust my teammates to make the right play after me.”
Beal is Washington’s best two-way threat in those spots because of his shooting touch, though he cannot compete with Wall’s speed, passing and ball handling. The shooting guard is more comfortable off the ball, but his dribble-drive game is much improved over the last two seasons. That’s at least in terms of creating for himself.
What Beal lacks as a natural facilitator he makes up for with strong hoops instincts. In the moment, that wasn’t the only factor as Brooks called plays from the sideline.
“They’re both good decision makers,” the head coach said of Wall and Beal. “I thought those last three minutes – obviously I have to watch the film – but we were loose. Not saying we thought the game was over, but we kind of relaxed. When you relax you give guys opportunities. We turned it over like careless. Like high school, not even high school. It was basically just giving the ball (away), making the game interesting more than it needed to be.”
Wall had his left ankle in a bucket of ice after the win. That’s the same ankle he said was stepped on after the Nov. 24 win over New Orleans. Wall cooled off the Knicks with 18 points, 15 assists and that dagger of a 3-pointer.
Manning the middle
Overlooked in the third quarter surge, the play of Thomas Bryant.
The Knicks could keep a true center on the court at all times if they desired with Enes Kanter and Mitchell Robinson. Good things happened in the first half when they did as New York led 61-52. Kanter, one of the league’s top rebounders, had 11 before halftime. The 7-foot-1 Robinson, a modern-day center capable of defending perimeter players on switches, had two blocks during the first two quarters.
Neither was the best center on the court in the third.
Bryant outrebounded Kanter 4-3 in the period, grabbing two offensive rebounds. He made all three of his field goal attempts. The new-ish starting center also played a key role on Washington’s defensive effort as New York scored only five points in the opening seven minutes of the quarter. Scott Brooks said improved footwork from the Wizards’ big men held them back in the first half.
“TB did a good job of coming in and rectifying that with good ball pressure with our guards, and he helped out,” Brooks said. We want four hands on the basketball and I thought it was especially that in that third quarter.”
Coincidence or not, the Wizards are 5-3 since Bryant replaced the injured Dwight Howard in the starting lineup.
In the two games with Tomas Satoransky in the starting lineup, the Wizards’ opening five have a net rating of 25.1. The breakdown, 107.5 offense (points per 100 possessions), 82.4 defense. On the season, only one five-man lineup in the league has a net rating of plus 25 or better (min. 100 minutes). Ironically, that’s a Clippers lineup that includes ex-Wizard Marcin Gortat along with Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Avery Bradley, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The better comparison involves the Wizards just before inserting Satoransky with the starters over Kelly Oubre Jr., who had started the previous six games. Of those six, five included the other usual starters; Otto Porter missed the Nov. 30 game at Philadelphia. Washington’s net rating in those five games, -17.2.
Oubre Jr. sizzled from the field against the Knicks, sinking 8 of 11 shots overall including 5 of 6 from 3-pointers. In the postgame locker room, Oubre was cooling down his right elbow, which the small forward said he hyper-extended slightly.
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