The Wizards were the first to admit their defense wasn’t perfect in the first half against the Thunder.
They allowed 61 first-half points as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got shots to fall from all over. And more importantly, it was the type of shots the Wizards allowed.
But Washington saved its best for the final 12 minutes, as it made a few timely stops to keep Oklahoma City far enough away to pull ahead for a 122-118 win at Capital One Arena.
The win Tuesday lifted the Wizards to 21-20 on the season at the halfway mark of the season.
“I was pleased with how we finished the fourth,” coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “It was our best defensive quarter, they didn’t shoot the ball well in the first quarter, but holding a team to 25 points and 42 from the field I thought was terrific. Once again, we got timely stops and made big plays. You could argue they’re lucky plays, but we had to have them.”
The Wizards allowed just 25 points, the fewest it allowed in any quarter Tuesday, in the fourth and earned the timely defensive stops they needed. The Thunder scored just six points in the final 5:21 of game time.
“Bottom line, we just did it a little harder, just a little bit more effort throughout the second half,” Unseld said. “We just did a better job of trying to keep the ball in front…they were living in our paint in the first half and we did a much better job in the second half of trying to limit that.”
There wasn’t a better example than the defensive effort to slow down Gilgeous-Alexander, who did as he pleased in the first half.
Of his 13 shot attempts in the first half, 12 of them came in the paint. He made eight. But in the second half, just four of his nine shot attempts came in the paint, and he made just two of them.
“I just think the sense of urgency was there, obviously we slowed Shai down a little bit just in terms of his style of shot attempts,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “I think the first half, he had 18 or 20 points and it was basically just all lay-ups. All rim attempts, those are super easy. We started turning those into floaters or step-backs.”
Dinwiddie was pleased with the team’s defensive effort late, and said sometimes players make shots that are contested.
“You just want the shot profile to be what the defense wants, it’s not always just about the makes or misses,” Dinwiddie said. “Some people are going to hit tough shots…As long as they’re shooting shots that our defense wants, you have to kind of shake their hands because they’re pros and they’re going to make shots at times. You never want Shai, who’s one of the best young players in the league, just getting lay-ups.”
While the offensive performance was outstanding (122 points on 47-of-87 shooting), and clearly a key factor down the stretch, the improved play in the fourth quarter on the defensive end of the floor couldn’t have come at a better time for the Wizards.