Wizards

Kuzma's late heroics help close out a win over Cavs

Wizards

The Washington Wizards beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-94 on Wednesday night. Here are five observations from what went down...

The Kloser

It would not be a stretch whatsoever to say that the Wizards would have lost in Cleveland on Wednesday night if it weren't for Kyle Kuzma. They were down nine points with six minutes to go and down four points with 30 seconds on the clock. But Kuzma hit four 3-pointers in the final 5:42, including two in the last 26 seconds, as the Wizards stunned the Cavs on the road.

It was the third straight win for the Wizards, who moved to 8-3 on the year. It remains their best start in seven years, since the 2014-15 season.

Cleveland proved a tough matchup despite missing a host of key players. Like the Wizards who remain without Davis Bertans (ankle), Rui Hachimura (personal reasons) and Thomas Bryant (ACL rehab), the Cavs were playing undermanned. They didn't have Collin Sexton (torn meniscus), Lauri Markkanen (protocols) and Kevin Love (protocols). 

Offense was a major problem for the Wizards for most of the night. They finished 10-for-28 from three, but that was only after they made their final three from long range.

Harrell took over early

It seems like Montrezl Harrell has been the Wizards' best player in about half of their games this season so far and Wednesday was one of those games. He came out on fire with 16 points in his first 10 minutes, a stretch so dominant it led to him being quadruple-teamed. Seriously, four players were guarding him.

 

Though that strategy worked for the Cavs, they otherwise had little answers for the Wizards center. He ended up with 24 points (8-12 FG), 11 rebounds and two steals. He has reached double-figures scoring in all 11 games this season. Harrell just kept outmuscling and outworking players like Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, who are quite a bit bigger than him. He even dunked on Allen.

Got to the line

The Wizards entered this game third in free throw attempts per game (22.3) and fourth in free throws made (17.6). The Cavs, meanwhile, were allowing the fewest free throws made (11.5) and the second-fewest attempts (15.5). Free throws are a big part of the Wizards' offense and an important element of the Cavs' defense.

The Wizards, though, won the clash of styles as they got to the line 17 times and made all 17 of them. They surpassed the Cavs' season average for free throws allowed in the first half alone, as the Wizards went a perfect 12-for-12 from the line.

Harrell was the ringleader in that effort as he shot 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. He was constantly being guarded by taller players like Allen and Mobley but was not fazed one bit. He put his head down and just barreled towards the rim. More often than not, the refs rewarded him.

Beal was off

This season has already shown how the Wizards' added depth can help them withstand off-nights and missed games by Bradley Beal like they hadn't been able to in years past. They have already won two games in which he only scored 17 points and even beat the Pacers without him. Last year, they went 2-10 when he was absent from the lineup.

Wednesday night, though, tested that dynamic to a new extreme as Beal was about as cold offensively as he has been in a long time. He began the game 0-for-10 from the field and didn't get his first field goal to drop until 4:22 was left in the third quarter. Beal got going after that, in part because he was switched to run the point, and finished with 13 points on 4-for-19 shooting. He also added seven rebounds and seven assists.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (five points, 1-8 FG) and Spencer Dinwiddie (11 pts, 4-11 FG) were also off. Luckily for them, Harrell stepped up and so did Kuzma (22 points, 6-9 3PT).

Childhood friends

This game had a good deal of significance for the head coaches, as we came to learn during their pregame press conferences. Wes Unseld Jr. and J.B. Bickerstaff have been friends with each other since they were kids playing around in the family room at the Capital Centre, where the Bullets used to play in Landover, MD. Unseld Jr.'s father, Wes Unseld Sr., was a star player on the Bullets while J.B.'s dad, Bernie, was an assistant coach.

Just before tipoff, they hugged each other at center court in what must have been a special moment for the two.