April 20, 2018 | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
Coming into Friday night’s game, the Washington Wizards were already written off by most pundits and with some reason. The Toronto Raptors had blasted the No. 8 seed in Game 2 and the Wizards were interpreted to be operating in dysfunction by those who do not carefully cover the team. In classic Washington fashion, when their backs were up against the fall staring down the barrel of a 0-3 series deficit, they played one of their best games of the season and blew out the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors still have the edge in the series, but if the Wizards are able to consistently keep up this effort, then maybe they can be part of the seven percent in NBA history that overcomes a 0-2 deficit.
“They are not your typical eighth seed,” Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “All this talk about they are not together. Bullcrap! They are a good team.”
Death Row DC Appears
Three minutes into the game, rookie OG Anunoby caught Markieff Morris with a high elbow that resulted in an offensive foul call. Morris, Anunoby, Marcin Gortat and others began a pushing and shoving match.
Midway through the third quarter, Bradley Beal wanted to grab the ball from Jonas Valanciunas after the latter committed a foul and the big man would not relinquish possession. The two got into a shoving match, Serge Ibaka came in and started pointing his fingers in many Wizards’ faces, and John Wall took exception. Team security and one of Wall’s close friends, David “Flave” Best, quickly ensured the conflict from escalating.
“I was just telling him to get his hands out of people’s face[s],” Wall shared. “He was just pointing at everyone’s face; I was just telling him to get his hands out of people’s face. He went into a little rage. It’s the playoffs, we’re down 2-0. We’re just being aggressive. We know nobody out there is trying to fight or going to fight anybody. But, if my teammates get into anything, I’m trying to back those guys up and play a physical aggressive game. Just try to come out here and set the tone and get a win.”
As Morris admitted after the game, no one is looking to truly fight, but Washington is also not going to back down from anyone as they enjoy being the more physical team. It worked last season against Atlanta and maybe the Wizards will be able to get their swagger back now that they have come across a key component in their identity again.
“Now it is do or die. We just need to bring that death row mentality,” Oubre said. “Keef [Markieff Morris]. Him coming out there and pretty much being fired up. I think OG [Anunoby] did not know the scouting report because he did not know that Keef is one of the people you do not mess with in this world. It is what it is. He will learn.”
“We are physical team, they are a physical team,” Beal explained. “Things get chippy, things get out of hand, we talk trash. I think it’s just part of the game. I don’t think me and [Jonas] Valanciunas was anything serious. I was just trying to get the ball. Keef [Markeiff Morris] is a bully. For the most part, we don’t come in with that mindset. We just want to be aggressive and be physical and sometimes it escalates a little bit, especially this one [John Wall].”
House of Guards Win Backcourt Battle
DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, but it was on 22 shot attempts. Kyle Lowry had 19 points, but on 6-for-14 shooting from the field. On the other end, Bradley Beal had 28 points, as many as he had in the first two games combined, on 10-for-19 shooting, while John Wall also chipped in with 28 points to go along with 14 assists. Wall had played strong offense for much of this series already, but it was his defense, four steals, one block, and overall solid engagement, that took his overall play to another level that fired him up during the game. Beal took a lot of flak after Game 2 because of his measly nine points on 3-for-11 shooting and rebounded in a fashion one would expect from an All-Star because remember that to him, “a miss is a lady.” If the Wizards continue to win the starting backcourt matchup, they will have a shot in every game the rest of the series.
“When they play at that level, they’re really good,” Lowry noted. “They’re both All-Star players. Brad got off and played well, got his stuff going. John got his stuff going. I think they were 22-for-42 on the field tonight, [those] two combined. Then [Marcin] Gortat got some easy ones, Mike Scott got some easy ones. But John and Brad are the heads of the snake and we got to cut them off.”
“Sometimes as a player, you’re not making shots, no matter how confident they are [and] sometimes you do get down,” Scott Brooks conveyed about Beal. “You don’t want to not play well. Sometimes, your home court can give you a big hug, and I thought that was a big part of our win tonight. Brad came out and was looking to go towards the basket and not just letting them hold him and going along with it. He didn’t want to dance with his opponent, he wanted to get away from them. That was a critical part of his success.”
Old Marcin Gortat Returns
There is no sugar coating that over the past couple of months, Gortat has struggled and his play has been diminished after years of solid contributions. On Thursday, he made the decision to cut his mohawk that he has been sporting throughout the season because it was too much to maintain, but maybe subconsciously because he needed a mental reset. Markieff Morris may be to thank for pushing Gortat over the edge to shave his head.
“We need the old Marc back,” Morris said about pestering Gortat to get rid of the hair. “We need the hammer back. Feel like we got him back tonight. Y’all feel like that? Yeah, he got to cut his hair. He too cute, he too cute with that mohawk.”
At least for one night, it worked as he and Valanciunas battled in a scene that looked like 2015 all over again. Gortat finished with 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting with seven of his shots being assisted including six from his point guard that he has a solid relationship with.
“March [Marcin] sets the tone for getting me and Brad open through a lot of screens and rolling for us,” Wall said. “He’s the back line of our defense and protecting the basket. … He’s a key to our team. He has to be there for us, to block shots, rebound, and set screens. He gets me and Brad to be aggressive coming off pick-and-rolls and [which allows us to] get our teammates involved. Tonight he got it going and made some easy shots. I always try to find him and tell him to be ready to look for my passes because a lot of teams collapse on me.”
“I think that he got an age-appropriate haircut,” Brooks joked. “He rolls to the basket [and] John’s [Wall] a great finder. John is clever, he’s crafty. You have to make tough decisions and he baits players into guarding him when he knows he’s going to make a pass. Good point guards see everything and he does. He sees Brad open in the left corner, he sees Keef [Markieff Morris] open in the slot, he sees Otto [Porter] in the right corner, but he’s really looking at March [Marcin Gortat]. He sees the defense and there’s checkpoints, and he does a good job of reading them and all March has to do is just lay it up.”
All About Defense
Things looked bad when Washington was down 27-18 with nearly three minutes to go in the first quarter, 139 points allowed pace. Once the Wizards stopped the bleeding and began playing solid defense, they only allowed 21 points in the each the third and fourth quarter. Toronto shot 22-for-42 (52.4 percent) from the field in the first half compared to just 15-for-40 (37.5 percent) in the second half. Washington made it clear they were switching almost every pick-and-roll according to Markieff Morris, which eliminated some of the confusion seen in Toronto. Few shots from the road team went uncontested, the Wizards had eight blocks, and the Raptors had 19 turnovers that the home team cashed in for 28 points. Scott Brooks has said more times than one can count that Washington is at its best when they are defending and able to get out on transition where they scored 21 points on Friday night after averaging just 12 points over the first two games.
“I think for one, just me and Brad [Beal] taking on the challenge of guarding those two guys,” Wall said about the defensive backcourt assignment. “I’m just trying to make it tough for them, stay on all plays. A lot of credit to our other three guys on the defensive end of being in a help position, but also just trying to close out on their shooters. In the first two games we would be in help position but give those guys warm up shots and they were knocking them down. Tonight they made some tough ones early on, but we just stuck with coverages and the changes we made.”
“With a defensive tough nose mindset definitely was a team we had last year,” Oubre commented. “It is the wave that we definitely have to ride moving forward against a great team.”
“Much better than the last two games,” Brooks assessed the defense. “We have to play defense if we want to win. We have to defend and we have to defend the three-point line. We did it as well as we could possibly do it tonight, and they still made 12 threes. This is a very good three-point shooting team. OG [Anunoby] comes in and makes the two [and] they have one of their best three-point shooters come in and miss four of them. We just have to defend, you have to defend every possession. It’s pretty simple, you just have to play hard with maximum effort on every possession.”
Bench Continues To Step Up
Washington is no where as deep as Toronto is, but for the second game in a row, that did not stop the second unit from outplaying the opponent’s. The Raptors were able to play 12-deep despite not having backup point guard Fred VanVleet (shoulder), but they did not get the desired production. Toronto got 32 points from their second unit, but on 10-for-29 (34.5 percent) shooting. Washington, on the other hand, got 35 points from four players on 12-for-21 (57.1 percent) shooting. Mike Scott continues to be the best player off the bench with 12 points on four shots including two three-pointers. Kelly Oubre was an effective 5-for-6 in the paint for 10 of his 12 points, while Ian Mahinmi and Ty Lawson chipped in for six and five points, respectively. The Wizards are just hoping for their bench to hold serve and maintain whatever margin the game is at when they enter, but getting an increased lead or decreased deficit from the second unit is gravy.
“That’s the key,” Wall said about the bench play for his team. “They have probably the best bench in the league and one of their guys is missing. I think that’s tough on them, but they still played well at home, those two games they had. Our bench just coming in and being aggressive. Mike [Scott] coming in and being aggressive, Ty [Lawson] being aggressive, Ian [Mahinmi] , Tomas [Satoransky], and definitely, K.O. [Kelly Oubre Jr.]. He’s not really worried about how many shots he’s getting, he’s just worried about locking up and taking away their best player. Just making it tough for them, doing the little things, making the hustle plays. It’s key for our team. I think tonight he did that and when he does that he’s a big key to our team. Like I always say, he’s an X-factor for us.”
“It was good,” Brooks said about Oubre’s defense. “He had one of his best defensive possessions of the year, [DeMar] DeRozan just made one of those tough, tough shots that just crawls into the basket. He has to be a defender. You get rewarded by playing with effort, you get rewarded by awareness, you get rewarded by playing into the schemes and staying with the game plan. Sometimes the game rewards you with open shots, and he made his open shots tonight. He was good on both ends of the floor.”
Next Game: Washington takes on Toronto on Sunday at 6 p.m. hoping to make things a best-of-3 series headed back to Canada.