With the Wizards down nine with just under six minutes to play, Kyle Kuzma caught fire just when it seemed like the Wizards didn’t have enough to get it done.
Kuzma finished the game with four 3-pointers in the last 5:42, as the Wizards ended the game on a 19-7 run on the back of his clutch shots down the stretch. Two of those 3-pointers came in the game’s final 26 seconds, as the Wizards escaped Cleveland with a 97-94 win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday.
“The kid’s got poise,” coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “He’s not overly concerned about missed shots. He’s been there and done it before, all his teammates have confidence in him, I have confidence in him, we as a staff trust he’s going to make those shots. As long as they’re shots that we’re generating, those are great looks, I have all the confidence in the world. So it’s good to see him step up and make them when they counted.”
In total, Kuzma finished with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including a 6-of-9 mark from deep. But in the game’s final six minutes, he outscored the Cavaliers by himself 12-7.
“I’m a confident person,” Kuzma said. “Always been this way. My teammates did a good job of finding me down the stretch. With me, I put in a lot of work at the end of the day. I’m ready for those moments, I believe every shot that I take has a chance to go in. You have to have that mentality if you want to be successful at this level.”
The last of his 3-pointers was the most consequential, as the Wizards trailed by two and needed a bucket to at least tie the game. Instead, after Bradley Beal drove the lane and kicked a pass out to Kuzma, they found themselves in the lead for the first time since late in the second quarter.
“We found a way to make plays late, on both ends,” Unseld said. “Our energy level wasn’t great to start. I think we were trying, just shots weren’t falling, our offense wasn’t clicking, so we struggled most of the first half into the third quarter. To see us gut it out late was huge. We had big possessions, Brad makes an incredible play to Kuz.”
After the win, Kuzma credited the win to some hecklers in the Cleveland crowd that taunted him for LeBron James having won Kuzma his championship ring. He retorted, both in comment and play, as he lifted what was a mostly slow offensive effort for the Wizards into a win — somehow.
Now 8-3 on the season, the Wizards have made a habit of winning games close down the stretch with a mix of defense and timely shooting. And on Wednesday against the Cavaliers, that timely shooting came from the suddenly hot hand of Kuzma.
“We just got a resilient group of guys, really,” Kuzma said. “We had no business winning that game with the type of energy and effort that we played with for three and a half quarters. We didn’t have a lead the whole second half until the end. We did a good job of playing the right way, finding the open man and also getting stops.”