It became a cliche this offseason to say the Wizards were focused on their defense — and how to improve it.
Players mentioned it. General manager Tommy Sheppard mentioned it. New coach Wes Unseld Jr. mentioned it — and it was a significant reason why he was hired.
Wednesday in Toronto, they got to show off their new look roster and defense to insanely impressive results. In a 98-83 win at Scotiabank Arena, the Wizards won not with their offense, but their defense. And it was a welcome performance for everyone involved.
“We generated the right shots,” Unseld Jr. began. “It didn’t fall for us tonight, but once again, that’s a credit to our defense. It was a defensive win, in my opinion.”
The Wizards allowed just 83 points, a total every opponent reached against them last season. The last time they held a team to 83 points was on Oct. 29, 2017 against the Kings, and the last time they held a team to fewer than 83 points was on March 14, 2016 against the Pistons.
Washington allowed just 37 points to Toronto in the first half, the lowest total it had allowed since Jan. 21, 2019. It hadn’t held an opponent under 40 points since Jan. 25, 2019.
“I felt like we came out and we handled business,” center Daniel Gafford, who finished with five blocks, said. “We came out and we had a defensive mindset first. We didn’t worry about anything offensively, we stayed poised — like the last couple minutes at the end, we stayed poised. We did what we had to do on the defensive end to be able to sustain the win.”
The Raptors shooting percentage of 30.9 percent was the lowest for a Wizards opponent since 2002, back when Michael Jordan was on the roster.
But it wasn’t just a matter of watching the Raptors miss shots with open looks. The Wizards were smart with their rotations, played with energy and disrupted as many shots as they could en route to a dominating win.
Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet had just 12 points each, and OG Anunoby had 11. No other Raptor reached double figures.
Now, the key is doing that for 81 more games.
“We made rotations, we covered for each other,” Montrezl Harrell said. “Even when we broke down and guys got open and guys created a mismatch, we covered for each other. That’s what it’s about, we’re going to have to do that all year.”