WASHINGTON -- Wizards head coach Scott Brooks knew he would be asked about a variety of subjects following his team's surprising win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night, but he opened his postgame press conference by stating his preference.
"Can we just talk about Ish?"
To be fair, where else would we start? Ish Smith has long been a solid NBA point guard and this year has arguably been the second-most consistent player on the Wizards. But never before had he played quite like he did against the Nuggets.
Smith set new career-highs in points (32), field goals made (15) and field goal attempts (24). He didn't start the game, but ran away with minutes at the point guard spot. He played 34 and closed the game, while starter Isaiah Thomas was capped at 17.
Brooks had no choice but to roll with the hot hand.
"The good thing is that it was all in the flow of the offense. It was the way we want to play. We want to play with pace," Smith said.
Smith led a Wizards effort that featured a franchise-record 92 bench points. It was the second-most bench points for any team since at least 1970-71, according to Elias.
These days, the Wizards' bench has no choice but to step up and compensate for a starting lineup ravaged by injuries. All-Star Bradley Beal missed another game on Saturday and it left the Wizards with two starters who were only on the team thanks to injury hardship exceptions.
Smith not only got his points, he got others in the second unit in rhythm with eight assists. Troy Brown Jr. had 25 points, Anzejs Pasecniks added 13 and Isaac Bonga had a career-high 15.
What does Smith does best is run the Wizards' offense at a high speed. He dribbles a lot, in and out of the paint and he creates passing lanes as he shifts the defense.
"Dribbling is something I've always done," Smith said. "I have to use the gift I was given."
Against the Nuggets, he had a series of crossovers that kept one of the best defenses in the NBA off balance. By the fourth quarter, he was drawing absurd reactions from his teammates on the bench.
After one, Gary Payton II fanned Smith with a towel as he took a seat, as if to cool him off. Another got injured center Thomas Bryant to take off his suit jacket, untuck his dress shirt and scream as he stomped away from the bench.
"It was crazy, it was ridiculous. Literally, it was like give Ish the ball and get out the way," Brown said.
It was a uniquely fun night at Capital One Arena for a team and a fanbase that has endured a lot of losing this season. It was Smith at his peak, the wily 10-year NBA veteran still killing defenders with his trademark quickness.
Smith has been reliable for the Wizards while basically everyone else on their roster has been beset by injuries at one point or another. Brooks just wants to make sure nothing happens to him.
When asked about Smith's dependability, he knocked on the wooden table he was sitting at.
"I don't want to even talk about that. I just want to make sure that he stays healthy," he said.
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