With the Washington Wizards’ bench, it’s been less about the ingredients and more about the blend. In Saturday’s 116-110 win over the Miami Heat, head coach Scott Brooks discovered a flavorsome mix just in time.
The Wizards would never admit desperation, but their 2-9 record had them starving for success. For once on this three-game road trip, they were in the position to gobble up a needed victory without a huge rally. John Wall had 28 points and nine assists in 41 minutes. He joined four reserves for the start of the fourth quarter, including Jeff Green and Austin Rivers. Those three fueled the scrumptious finish.
The situation already tasted less bitter starting the fourth quarter compared to the previous two games on the road trip. The Wizards trailed the Heat entering the final 12 minutes, but only 85-83 compared to a 15-point hole Friday at Orlando and a nine-point deficit Tuesday against Dallas. Washington didn’t exactly secure momentum in third, but Miami failed to grab hold either. Winning for the third time in 12 games was indeed on the menu.
Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ian Mahinmi also walked onto the court opening the fourth. The Wizards took the lead for good at 86-85 on a successful drive from Rivers, who delivered his most potent game of the season with an aggressive 18 points. Wall sent a perfect alley-oop toss to a streaking Green for Washington’s subsequent basket and then scored the next four points with a mid-range jumper and two free throws.
Starters Bradley Beal (18 points) and Dwight Howard (11 points, 16 rebounds) re-entered midway through the fourth and helped push the lead to 17. Green finished with 19 points. Another dunk off a Wall lob put Washington in control at 114-97. These Wizards have endured some wild moments, but they weren’t about to ruin this opportunity. For one of the rare times this season, the pieces fit.
Having a starter on the court from the beginning of the period helped.
Despite consistent backfires, Brooks often deploys an all-bench lineup opening the even-numbered quarters (if not toward the end of the prior period), though more the second than the fourth. The four main components of that second unit – Green, Rivers Oubre Jr., and Tomas Satoransky – are legitimate pieces. Individually, each offers possible help. When joined together this season, results were bitter.
While the fifth reserve/player rotated some games, the core four of Oubre, Green, Rivers, and Satoransky played together in the previous 11 games this season. Their net rating of -33.1 in 81 minutes was the worst of any four-man lineup in the league this season (min. 75 minutes).
Good signs were forming with the second unit throughout Saturday's game. Rivers, a lost soul for the opening 11 games with his new team, attacked the basket with purpose. Green sank his first seven field goal attempts. His 10 rebounds helped Washington win the battle of the boards for the first time this season.
Mahinmi, who played Saturday after sitting out the previous three games, contributed in big man ways during the second quarter. Oubre finished with a team-best two steals. The first half efforts collectively did little to change the game.
Brooks went with the second unit including Satoransky (scoreless in six minutes) with 1:51 remaining in the first quarter and Miami leading 30-23. While the reserves avoided falling significantly further back as was the case in recent losses to Oklahoma City and Dallas, they didn’t make a push either. The margin stuck in the 8-12 range until the starters began tricking back in midway through the second quarter. That this served as a good result says plenty about the second unit’s work this season.
Having Wall on the court certainly helped. Deploying the five-time All-Star __ or for that matter, Beal, Porter or Morris __ with the reserves hasn’t been a staple. Some teams find success using all reserves. Orlando did in the first half of its 117-108 win Friday night. Washington hasn’t this year or last.
This all-bench bad talk doesn’t mean shunning the reserves. Sitting Markieff Morris and Otto Porter for the entire fourth quarter in two consecutive games is notable, though ultimately seems circumstantial. Washington started strong at the beginning of both final periods and, as often the case when seeking a slump-busting win, the coach rode with momentum.
Porter’s effectiveness exceeded his modest box score numbers of seven points in 23 minutes. Brooks went elsewhere late. He has options. It's just a matter of proper mixing and matching.
Using Wall 40-plus minutes on back-to-back nights is hardly ideal. Beal could undoubtedly serve as the lineup anchor, Porter, and Morris as well at times. When it comes to keeping a starter on the court always, the head coach ideally sticks with what worked Saturday when the Wizards cooked the Heat. That blend made for a delicious finish.
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