Westbrook and Gafford made clutch plays to beat Pelicans


Russell Westbrook has many sayings he likes to circle back to, and one of them is 'the game will tell you what to do.' Basically, what he means is that as each game comes down to the stretch, the best players can recognize what their team needs to win and then do exactly that.

On Friday night, the Wizards needed big stops in the fourth quarter and then someone to step up and take over offensively in overtime. Daniel Gafford took the first job before Westbrook put the team on his back and closed it out with his scoring.

Gafford built a wall in the paint in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and in overtime, blocking or altering a series of shots, most notably from All-Stars Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. He stuffed Ingram violently at the rim with 1:47 to go in the fourth quarter, then swatted away a Williamson attempt with 31.7 seconds left in regulation. He then met Williamson again at the rim with 2:48 remaining in overtime.

Gafford became a one-man demolition crew, too good even for Williamson who is as dangerous in the paint as anyone in the sport.

"I’ve gotta protect home," Gafford said. "I can’t let nothing come inside and if it does, I can’t let it go down easy. I’m gonna have to foul you or block the shot, it’s as simple as that. Protection is important to me and that is the basket."


Bradley Beal, now in his ninth season in Washington, said he's never seen a defensive performance quite like that from a Wizards teammate. Beal has played with many centers, but none who can shut a team down defensively for that long of a stretch.

"He had his work cut out for him and he stood his ground for sure," Beal said. "There were some big guys out there. He did a great job of standing his ground and making sure they had to shoot over him and they couldn’t do it."

Gafford had 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 26 minutes of action. He was supposed to play under 20 as he continues to work his way back from a right ankle sprain, but the Wizards couldn't have pulled off this win without him.

The same could be said for Westbrook, who scored 10 of the Wizards' 12 points in overtime. He had 36 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. And he made the two decisive free throws with 1.9 seconds left to give the Wizards a 117-115 victory.

"Just close the game," Westbrook said of his mindset. "A lot of guys struggled tonight. Part of my job is to kind of see where we need some help at. Scoring was that tonight."

The foul on Westbrook was by Williamson, who just barely clipped his elbow on the way up. Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy challenged the play, but it was upheld.

Westbrook watched the replay intently during the delay, but said he was confident the call would stand.

"It was a foul. If it wouldn’t have been a foul, then it would have been a bucket," he said.

Beal said Westbrook saved him on a night he shot 0-for-9 from three, the worst shooting game of his career. The Wizards only made four threes in the win out of 27 attempts and two of those makes were by Westbrook in overtime.

The Wizards were in a close game and he played like a superstar to get them the win.

"We say it all the time; he’s a winner," head coach Scott Brooks said. "We’re building something good and he’s going to be a big part of our success."