WASHINGTON -- You knew the Wizards would have to hold off a Nuggets run after taking a big lead early in the fourth quarter, but you probably didn't think it'd be so nerve-racking. The Nuggets kept coming and coming, and the Wizards played like they were hanging on by a thread.
In the end, though, there just wasn't enough time. The Wizards made the big plays when they needed to make them and came away with a 119-113 win in an entertaining game. This was a much-needed result after the disaster that took place on Tuesday night, and it says a lot about this team's character that they were able to hang on against an explosive Nuggets team.
Washington took a 16-point lead after three quarters, but as with any good team, the Nuggets made a push. A layup by Andre Miller cut the Wizards' lead to 10, and after a turnover by Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer got two points when a goaltending was called. On the other end, Wall missed a jumper, didn't drop back far enough and allowed JaVale McGee to get behind him. McGee hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to seven. The Nuggets changed their pick and roll coverages on John Wall during this stretch, dropping the big man back further to contain his drives. It confused Wall, and I'm not sure why they didn't do this sooner.
The Nuggets kept cutting the gap down, eventually getting it to two with under a minute left. Both teams made big plays, but two missed Wall isolation opportunities -- a horrendous turnover and a blown floater over Kenneth Faried -- gave the Nuggets the chance to tie the score. Ty Lawson drove and got to the rim as usual, but Nene came over to swat his shot away and deflect the ball off a Nuggets player, giving Washington the ball back with 32.6 seconds left.
This was a spot where the Wizards had failed so many times this year. This time, they started a Wall/Nene pick and roll with 12 seconds on the shot clock, very early for a late-clock situation. After the Nuggets closed it off one way, they tried again going right. This time, both Nuggets players left Wall, and he canned the wide-open jumper to push the lead to four with 13.7 seconds left. Wall had missed that shot so many times, so to see him make it was huge.
That ended up sealing things. Miller missed a layup on the next possession, and Washington survived.
The Wizards led throughout most of the first half, but the Nuggets ended up closing the gap by the end of the second quarter and tied the game at 64 at halftime. The Wizards were certainly shooting well, hitting 55 percent from the field and 53 percent from three-point range, but they were also sloppy, committing nine turnovers, playing poor defense and losing track of the Nuggets in transition.
But the beginning of the third quarter was much better for Wall and the Wizards. After playing porous defense in the first half, Washington dialed up the intensity, holding the Nuggets scoreless for the first five and a half minutes of the quarter. This is the Nuggets, mind you. They score a lot of points.
What happened? At the start, Wall got his hands in the passing lanes, forcing turnovers and finding open men on the break. But eventually, others contributed. The Nuggets love to try to beat you off the dribble, but all of Washington's perimeter defenders did what they could to close off the lane. With the lanes shut down, the Nuggets had nowhere to turn.
On the other end, Wall continued to fare well when the Nuggets trapped him on pick and rolls, finding Nene for an open jumper and consistently making the simple play. (Why Denver guarded Wall this way, I'll never know). It helped Washington get into a rhythm offensively. Denver made a run to cut the deficit, but a strong third-quarter set up Washington's big lead that proved to be enough.
Overall, it wasn't a perfect performance, but it was much better than Tuesday night. The heroes include Beal (16 points, 12 rebounds), Okafor (17 points and 13 rebounds) and Ariza (16 points). Seven guys scored in double figures, which will make Wittman happy. I'll take it.