January 13, 2019 | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
The Washington Wizards were down 19 points to the best team, by record, in the Eastern Conference eight minutes into the game. The Toronto Raptors would go on to go up by as many as 23 points in the first half. I was getting ready to chalk up another somewhat embarrassing loss for Washington, but that would not end up the case. Despite the loss in a thrilling double overtime game, the Wizards continue to show fight in an otherwise disappointing season.
For many of the Wizards’ players, their first trip to London and in some cases their first trip overseas awaits hours after the conclusion of this game and it is plausible to think the focus level was not where it should have been. That could have been an explanation for another slow start, which was a theme when John Wall was playing. Another factor could be Otto Porter continuing to come off the bench. Obviously, plus-minus is not a flawless statistic, but Porter’s game-high +23 and Jeff Green’s game-worst -20 is glaring. Green has been a great player for Washington, but at the end of the day, he should not be playing 30+ minutes as he currently is. When asked about whether the max contract wing could start next game, Scott Brooks was non-committal.
After digging themselves such a big hole, it was who else but Bradley Beal digging them out of it faster than a snow plow could dig out the DMV area. The All-Star shooting guard did not look the part in the first half with just 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting, but a lot of that was the result of him getting hounded from every angle by Toronto defenders. There were times when Beal was surrounded by four Raptors in the paint as they were determined to force someone else to beat them.
Following intermission where presumably some halftime adjustments took place, Beal came out continuing to play some of the best basketball of his still young career. In the fourth quarter, No. 3 had 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting including four three-pointers, one of which tied the game at 124 with 22 seconds left to play in regulation to force overtime. With 6.8 seconds left in the first overtime, Beal converted on a slyly devised ATO play to tie the game at 131. Washington’s best player only had one shot attempt in the second overtime and there is some correlation with causation of the Wizards going on to lose that frame and the game.
For the second time in his career and in the last month, Beal recorded a triple-double by also grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out a career-high tying 15 assists. He joins a select group this century to have multiple 40-point triple-doubles with LeBron James, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. At this point, there should be absolutely zero doubt from the 14 other Eastern Conference coaches that Beal should be named a reserve to this year’s All-Star game no matter how bad Washington’s record may be by the end of the month.
The Kawhi Leonard to Toronto trade was the talk of the offseason last summer and for good reason. Would he return to his top-10 or arguably top-5 player in the NBA form? Washington sure thinks so. The elite two-way player did not suit up in the two team’s first matchup in D.C., but he more than made up for it Sunday afternoon. The Claw finished with 41 points on 15-of-29 shooting, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocked shots in 45 minutes of play. Every time Toronto needed a clutch shot, Leonard seemingly delivered. The Raptors were putting young Thomas Bryant in pick-and-roll and taking advantage of it. Trevor Ariza had the primary responsibility of dealing with the possible MVP candidate and couldn’t do much or risk getting called for a foul on a questionable officiating afternoon. “He’s extremely skilled, very strong player,” Ariza put briefly.
Porter and Ariza both tried to put a little bit of positive spin on things although they were clearly disappointed with the loss. For now, it is clear that the Wizards are not tanking and that is not surprising. Whether they are sellers at the February 7 trade deadline will signal the rest of the season’s future to a degree. They are just two games back of the No. 8 seed and 4.5 games back of the No. 6 seed so the postseason is still a conceivable possibility, but are two playoff games of revenue worth it for Ted Leonsis because it is all but inevitable that this team will lose a first-round matchup given their woes on the road this season. We will have to wait and see on the coming episodes that is the hit drama of Washington Wizards basketball.