Wait for it. Wait for it...THE WASHINGTON WIZARDS ARE ABOVE .500, WOOOOOO!!
Man, that was awesome. A couple days after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Washington Wizards rode some spectacular second-half defense to a 100-90 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, who entered the game averaging an NBA-best 108.3 points per game.
But this wouldn't be the Wizards without a little late-game drama, now would it? Kevin Seraphin, of all people, carried the Wizards offensively to begin the fourth quarter, with Washington actually (inexplicably?) running their offense through Snakey...and it actually worked for a bit, but Damian Lillard woke up as the Blazers slowly trimmed the Wizards' lead into the single digits with a few minutes to play. Washington maddeningly tried to hang on by shooting low-percentage jumpers, but didn't let their defense slack and the Blazers couldn't take advantage on offense.
After LaMarcus Aldridge made a layup to cut the deficit to six, Nene hit a huge jumper off a pick-and-roll with Bradley Beal to put the Wizards up 98-90 with 53 seconds to play. Then Wesley Matthews missed a three and Garrett Temple...tipped the rebound out of bounds with no one around him. Whywhywhywhy??
But no worries. Temple challenged another Matthews three beautifully, Trevor Ariza corralled a contested rebound, and a couple John Wall free throws (while the Verizon Center crowd chanted " MVP!! MVP!!") made things academic with half a minute to play. Wall dribbled out the ball amid a standing ovation from the home fans, who were no doubt thrilled to see the Wizards (after seven tries) go above .500 for the first time this season, and for the Wall, the first time in his career.
Wall finished with a team-high 22 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals, and maintained his defensive intensity across all four quarters. Ariza was again huge, scoring 20 points (4-of-7 from three) and locking down whomever Wittman needed him too. Seraphin came off the bench to give the Wizards halfcourt offense a huge lift, scoring 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting (plus 5-of-6 on free throws). Marcin Gortat only scored six points, but helped control the boards when he was in, finishing with a game-high 11 rebounds.
Both teams moved the ball beautifully to begin the game, Washington to open three-point shooters, Portland to cutters streaking to the rim. Ball security was the difference, as the Wizards went without a turnover in the first quarter while the Blazers committed several.
Things got wacky a couple minutes into the second quarter. The crowd really wanted Jan Vesely to score while posting up CJ McCollum, but his shot got blocked. Then Vesely almost tipped in a Portland miss before corralling the rebound. Then he got fed in the post for a wide open dunk, but tried to lay it in and got it blocked again. Then McCollum took the ball down court, went up for a shot in the paint, but just lost the ball for a turnover. I half expected Yackety Sax to start playing over the Verizon Center sound system.
But then Randy Wittman cranked the zany up to 11 by electing to play Seraphin and Vesely at the same time for an extended period. Predictably, the Wizards saw their lead dwindle from seven and turn into a five-point Blazers lead before Wittman called a timeout in order to get Nene back into the game with 4:18 to play in the first half.
The Blazers, and Aldridge in particular, closed out the quarter seemingly unable to miss a shot, and finished the first half shooting 61 percent, so it felt like a minor miracle the Wizards went into halftime up 56-55. Wall set the tone defensively, holding Lillard to eight first half points while helping force nine Blazers turnovers, while Washington only turned the ball over once.
The Wizards kept up the defensive intensity in the third quarter, finding a way to both double the ball and recover in time to challenge open shooters. As is usually the case, good defense turned into opportunities on offense, and Washington ended the quarter on an 8-0 run for an 82-69 advantage heading into the fourth.
The Wizards have now beaten the two best teams in the Western Conference in their last two games. Up next on Wednesday, they'll face the San Antonio Spurs, who until Portland's loss were tied with the Blazers for the West's second-best record. Bring ‘em on.
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