For the second straight game against an Eastern Conference contender, the Washington Wizards dug themselves a 20-plus point deficit in the second half. Against Philadelphia and Boston, Washington brought themselves back to shouting distance but faltered in crunch time as has been the case much of this season thus far. Here are five takeaways as well as Scott Brooks, Rui Hachimura, Bradley Beal, and Russell Westbrook’s postgame media availability.
Poor first-half defense
The Wizards had no answer for the Celtics in their first half even with Boston without Kemba Walker, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, and Tristan Thompson. The home team had 66 points on 58 percent shooting. Jayson Tatum had 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting and took full advantage of his half foot height advantage on Bradley Beal. Jaylen Brown had 18 points on 6-for-10, eight rebounds, and four assists. Isaac Bonga finally saw meaningful playing time after not in the previous four games, but he did not have much better luck in six minutes. It is often the same recipe for disaster on any given possession, either someone gets beat on the perimeter leading to scrambling defensive rotation or Washington has to help down allowing open looks from the perimeter or the Wizards are late in transition. A 19 point halftime deficit was expanded to 28 in the third quarter, which proved too much for the Wizards to come back from.
Bradley Beal continues to have himself a season
In an encore of his 60 point performance from Wednesday, Bradley Beal dropped a game-high 41 points to maintain his early lead as the NBA’s leading scorer so far this season. Defenses are still hounding Beal at every opportunity, which makes his performances all the more impressive. Scoring from everywhere on the court, the Wizards offense is practically giving the ball to Beal and let him go to work because there is not much scheme in the halfcourt set. Hopefully, he gets some help soon even if that is finding someone else on the team to guard the likes of Jayson Tatum who Beal admitted after the game that he is giving up six inches to in height. As much as Beal wants to prove himself as a two-way play, having to guard the opposing team’s best scorer will accelerate fatigue throughout the course of a game.
Garrison Mathews and Moe Wagner see second-half minutes
With Washington getting run out of the building, Scott Brooks continues to search for sparks off the bench. He finally turned to his two-way player Garrison Mathews who was credited with blowing up screens, denying who assignment the ball on defense, and of course knocking down shots with a couple layups. Many have been calling for Mathews minutes earlier and Brooks admitted maybe he should have done so, but moving forward the Lipscomb product should be in the rotation (working within his 50 games available to the big league team). With improved defense not really apparent early in the season, Robin Lopez’s signing for $7.3 million has not paid off at all. Moe Wagner got an opportunity in the second half to backup Thomas Bryant and although he didn’t have a bucket, he provided a needed boost of energy off the bench that helped turn the tide. When Mathews entered the game, Washington was down 27 and when Wagner entered, they were down 23. The deficit was just 10 and 11 when each exited in the fourth quarter.
Deni Avdija coming back to earth
Just after I began to declare that I no longer view Avdija as a 19-year old rookie, the now 20-year old has hit his first slump. In his last three games, Avdija has played 46 minutes and scored just four points, grabbed just three rebounds, and dished out just two assists. The defensive effort has still been there for the most part, but the rookie needs time to get acclimated to the NBA and opposing players’ tendencies. Scott Brooks has been quick to sit Avdija instead of letting him play through whatever perceived deficiencies as the Wizards are very much striving for win-now. Aside from starting Davis Bertans, which would further deprive the second unit of offensive firepower, Avdija should still continue to start, but nothing is out of the question when you are 2-7.
Russell Westbrook struggles
When asked about playing with his ring and pinky fingers taped together on his right hand after dislocating a finger in Philadelphia, Westbrook said it is what it is. Neither confirming or denying whether the injury impacted his game, the Wizards point guard had a poor all-around game. In 33 minutes, Westbrook had just 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting and seven turnovers. He would add 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and a block, but Washington needs more. It is unlikely Westbrook will play in the second leg of the back-to-back against Miami at home marking the third game in the team’s first 10 that they will be without the former MVP.