Luke Kennard raised both of his arms in celebration, perhaps still a tad unsure of what just happened, and leaped into the arms of a teammate as the entire Los Angeles Clippers bench poured out onto the floor to greet their newest hero.
Among the celebrating Clippers were members of the Wizards, too shocked to even look disgusted by what transpired at Capital One Arena. Because what was happening around them seemed impossible just minutes, and seconds, prior. And statistically, it essentially was.
The Wizards lost by one, 116-115, Wednesday night in a game they trailed for all of 1.9 seconds. Their 35-point first half lead was erased. So, too, was their 30-point halftime lead and their 17-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
In the end they were left with one of the most embarrassing losses in recent NBA history as they allowed a Clippers team that was down and out to steal a win out from them that they badly needed.
“We stopped playing,” Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “We had a good rhythm, we were playing well. We thought we had the win in the bag and we stopped playing how we played to get the 35-point lead.”
Late in the fourth quarter, the Clippers cut the lead to just two points after trailing by 30 at the break. According to ESPN’s Win Probability, the Wizards had a 99.7% chance to win the game when they took a 35-point lead in the second quarter. And with 10.5 seconds left, even after allowing the Clippers back into the game, they still had a 98.2% shot at victory.
Instead, the final minute was an unmitigated disaster.
“I think everybody lost their composure,” Unseld said.
The Wizards held an eight-point lead with 36.8 seconds left after a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope dunk and appeared to have survived a late scare. Even after some free throws by both teams and an Amir Coffey dunk, the lead was five points with 18.9 seconds to play.
Then Kuzma missed one-of-two free throws and Kennard hit a 3-pointer from 32-feet to make it a one-possession game and put serious pressure on Washington. The Wizards called timeout, only to commit a five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds play to give the Clippers fresh life.
"I had no options, so I'm not going to have a live-ball turnover,” Kyle Kuzma, who was the inbounder on the play, explained. “I just took it. That was the smartest thing to do. That's what I saw.”
The Clippers raced down the floor as the Wizards tried to foul, something they thought they got off in time.
Beal said Unseld wanted them to foul Justise Winslow, and both he and Spencer Dinwiddie tried. Instead, Kennard took the hand-off, fired off a 3-point attempt while being fouled and buried it to tie the game for the first time since 0-0.
“I feel like I got one, (Kennard) takes another dribble, foul, 3(-pointer),” Beal said. “Can’t make it up. Can’t make this s*** up.”
Kennard sank the following free throw to hand the Wizards (23-25) their most improbable loss of the season and, frankly, one of the most improbable losses in franchise history.
“I really was sitting for the last 10 to 15 minutes trying to figure it out and I have no words — besides embarrassing,” Beal said. “I don’t know.”
The story of Tuesday's game must be told through more than just Kennard’s burst of seven points in the final nine seconds, though, because what that tells is so much more damning for the Wizards.
It took more than half of the first quarter for the Clippers to make a field goal as Washington raced to a 17-2 lead in the first quarter. And after a brief push by the Clippers, the Wizards extended that lead to 35 with 1:20 to play in the first half. At that point, everyone figured the night was over.
“I felt like we won the game,” Beal said. “I was frustrated, when I had to go back in because I knew we were up 20 and this should’ve been a game where starters get their rest. Plain and simple. That’s what type of game it should’ve been.”
The loss also came just two days after a 29-point defeat to the Celtics at home in a game where Jayson Tatum scored 51 points. Tuesday’s loss to the Clippers was worse.
Los Angeles began to chip away at the massive lead in the third quarter, but Washington still maintained its double-digit lead until midway through the fourth. And then things truly hit the fan.
Washington’s defeat left everyone with a handful of difficult questions to answer, not made easier by the fact that the NBA trade deadline is in two weeks and perhaps the toughest stretch of the season (road games against Memphis, Milwaukee and Philadelphia followed by home games against Phoenix, Miami and Brooklyn) is to follow.
Both Kuzma and Beal's astonished looks during their postgame press conferences could’ve told the story on their own. Because in the end, there wasn’t much to say about what just transpired other than stating what happened over and over.
“The game wasn’t over,” Beal said. “We haven’t done s***. We aren’t that good, quit thinking we’re this elite team. We were up 35 points tonight and lost the damn game.”