November 26, 2018 | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
The Washington Wizards, winners of five of their previous eight games coming into Monday, were making small progress in turning around a nearly sunken ship. All of this is despite internal squabbles being leaked to the outside world, which the majority of the team did not like happening. Despite an errant report, presumably based on news that is two weeks old, from an outsider that Bradley Beal wants out of D.C., the home team played a passionate game and earned a victory in an instant classic. The NBA’s MVP nearly pulled the rabbit out of his hat with the Houston Rockets dealing with a depleted roster, but by overtime, he was running on empty. Washington has won six out of their last nine games.
Continued poor three-point defense early
The Houston Rockets went next level on what the Golden State Warriors have won championships with in terms of pace and space and three-pointers and layups. The final line for the road team from deep does not look terrible, 37.5 percent (18-of-48), but that was only after a significant cool down. The Rockets made their first seven three-point attempts in the first quarter. Seven in a row. That gave them a 27-10 lead just minutes into the game. In the first quarter this season, Washington is allowing teams to shoot 44 percent from beyond the arc: 74-of-168. That is a ridiculous number that tells me they simply are not locked in on closing out to shooters early in the game, because at this point it is a pattern and not teams repeatedly being lucky. For his career, he is a 37.2 percent three-point shooter, but Eric Gordon has been struggling so far this season by converting on just 26.2 percent of his shots from deep. It was a get right game for him against Washington as he was 8-of-16 from beyond the arc. James Harden did his thing with 54 biscuits including 7-of-15 shooting from three counting a couple of four-point plays. Houston’s starting backcourt, with Chris Paul still hurt, had 90 points combined with exactly half coming from three-point land. To Washington’s credit, the rest of Houston’s team was just 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) and they only made 11 of their last 41 (26.8 percent) three-point attempts.
“We tried everything on Harden,” Scott Brooks said about his former player. “We absolutely tried to take it out of his hands early, take it out of it late. Keep our hands out of his shooting pocket. We tried the switch, we tried the show. He was playing at high, high, high level, and his step back threes [were on]. And they iso you so if you double team him, you are going to double-team him from basically 30 feet from the basket, and he is such a great passer as you know; 13 assists tonight.”
“He’s a MVP. You gotta expect that,” Markieff Morris reasoned. “We did a great job of limiting the other guys. We knew he was going to go out there and get his numbers. Him and Eric Gordon played a great game. We just tried to limit the other guys and came up with the victory.”
House of Guards close
John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 68 points on 25-of-41 shooting (which may not seem like much given Harden had just 14 less than that by himself) and 15 assists in 90 minutes of play. When Harden was popping off for 21 in the third quarter, it was Beal’s 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and Wall’s 7 points on 3-of-6 shooting that prevented the Rockets from building up a big lead again after Washington had done so much to come back in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, the Wizards’ guards only had five points apiece, but Beal played some very solid defense on Harden containing him to just six points on 2-of-7 shooting from the field. In overtime, the league’s reigning MVP did not hit a shot until after more than three minutes had passed and the home team had already built up their largest lead of the game of seven points.
Effort and playing one’s individual role the key
When the Wizards were 2-9, their defense was horrendous mainly because there was next to no one on the team digging in and playing good, sound defense. The on-ball defense was terrible leading to poor three-point defense, which was a classic snowball effect as they were getting pummeled most nights. During that time, players were also too concerned with getting enough shots off, which is not surprising given there are eight players on that team potentially entering free agency next summer. The time for finger pointing is likely in the past (one would hope) with the intense practice from two weeks ago and Washington is slowly turning things around by playing to their potential. Markieff Morris has excelled off the bench averaging 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in four games, while Tomas Satoransky has earned more consistent playing time with over 20 minutes per game in the last five games. As a result, Kelly Oubre (despite starting since he is typically not finishing) and Austin Rivers’ minutes have come down a bit as the former struggles with his three-point shot and the latter has somewhat inconsistent play as he seemingly is still getting acclimated to playing behind two All-Star guards. Head coach Scott Brooks majestically put into words the importance of effort after the Monday night win.
On why the Wizards having won three-of-the-last-four games
“We’re playing harder. It’s really simple. There’s no coach, there’s no players that can overcome not playing hard. And the bottom line for whatever reason, we’ve been trying to figure it out, we have to play harder. By playing hard you get a chance to win, and that’s the easiest, that’s the EASIEST thing to do. It’s easy to be in shape and it’s easy to play hard, it’s hard to play well. The first two I was really good at. The third one I was very average, but that’s why I didn’t play a lot. But we have guys that need to play hard every night, and when you do that it’s fun to coach. And when you don’t do that, it’s not fun to coach.”
On if he has found the group of Wizards players that will compete at a higher level:
“We have to keep fighting. It’s not about nothing other than competing. I’ve been first to admit that I haven’t done a good job early in the season, and I think now I have a pretty good control over who plays and who doesn’t play. I don’t care about guys’ feelings. My feelings are hurt when they don’t play hard. It’s about playing hard. We play hard for our fans, we play hard for our ownership, we play hard for our teammates, and we play hard for a lot of reasons. And to me like I said, it’s such a simple thing to do. It’s not asking a lot. You shouldn’t have to beg. I’ve never worried about it, but for some reason this year we’ve had to worry about playing hard. And hopefully that’s behind us. There is a lot of basketball left. We have 12 losses, and as I said earlier today, there’s a lot of teams with 10-or-more losses in the league. Unfortunately, we got 12, but fortunately at lot of teams have 10.”
Next Game: The Wizards go on a mini road trip starting with a rematch against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. Hoop District will have live coverage from the Big Easy.