Man, what a win.
The Washington Wizards moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings Saturday with a 101-94 home win over the Brooklyn Nets, a victory fueled by John Wall and Drew Gooden (that's right), who combined for 33 and 21 points, respectively.
But for most of the game, it didn't look like this one was going to go the Wizards' way. Washington entered the fourth quarter trailing, 79-72. All game, every time the Wizards seemed to get close, the Nets answered with another run.
But everything changed in that fourth quarter, and it began on the backs of the AARP unit. Al Harrington got up for a put-back dunk. Gooden pulled an okie-doke on Andray Blatche, who tried drawing a foul with a pump fake. Harrington made a good move to get into the paint for an easy layup. Beal tipped in a Harrington miss at the rim. Gooden made a long jumper. Then he tipped in a basket. And made another long jumper. Suddenly, Washington had its first lead in a while, 87-86.
Then Marcus Thornton (19 points on 7-of-11 shooting) made a three and a driving layup, and the Nets were back up, 91-87. But the crowd was too into the game at that point. Once Wall re-entered, he quickly got past Deron Williams for a scoop layup, knotting the score at 91.
And then, with 2:35 left in the game, Gooden hit a contested three with the shot clock winding down. 97-94, Wizards. The crowd, as you'd probably expect, went bananas. The Wizards bench, hell, even Gooden appeared as incredulous as everyone else in the arena. At this point, Gooden had 21 points. What exactly were we witnessing?
Both teams exchanged a few misses, until Trevor Ariza snatched an offensive rebound amid a sea of Nets, spun to the hoop, and made the layup to put Washington up, 99-94, with 44.6 seconds to play. Pandemonium ensued.
Or so it seemed. Then with about 30 seconds left in the game, Wall came with up a Brooklyn miss, raced downcourt, and slammed home the win. The roof might as well have blown off Verizon. Deron Williams missed a quick three, and with 10 seconds left, Verizon Center erupted. Wall screamed up at the heavens as D.C. fans rained a standing ovation down on the newly fifth-place Wizards.
Once again, what a win.
Wall came out of halftime scorching, scoring the Wizards' first six points of the third quarter to two threes, one of them from K Street. He made another three five minutes into the quarter to bring the Wizards to within 63-62, drew an offensive foul on Williams, and went diving into the Washington bench trying to save a loose ball. Yeah, Wall wanted this one.
Threes from Marcus Thornton and Joe Johnson pushed the Nets' lead to 71-62. By the end of the third, Washington remained down, 79-72. (Note: This has usually meant a Nets win. Brooklyn entered Saturday's game 31-1 when leading after three quarters.) Wall had 28 points. The next closest Wizard had 12 points.
After appearing to badly tweak his ankle last night against the Magic, Bradley Beal started against the Nets. He didn't show much rust to begin the game, nailing a corner three for the Wizards' first points of the game, and another triple three minutes later to give Washington an early 8-7 lead. Marcin Gortat (who ended up having a miserable game, scoring only two points on 1-of-8 shooting) swatted a couple shots less than three minutes into the game, Trevor Booker had some early success in the post matched up against Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston, and it looked like the Wizards had a decided advantage in the paint. But Booker struggled throughout the first half guarding Pierce off the dribble. It might have made sense to match the Nets' small lineup and play Ariza at power forward, but alas.
Wall clearly wanted to push the tempo from the get go, but that resulted in bad turnover and easy slam for Mason Plumlee. On the other end, Wall struggled staying tight with Williams, who knocked down a couple threes after working free off screens. The Wizards' offense came unglued midway through the quarter while the Nets thrived on the other end, building a 26-16 lead after Blatche made a free throw amid a cacophony of boos. The main problems for Washington were turnovers and an insistence on jacking up threes - they made only two of their nine attempts (both makes by Beal) before Wall sank a three as the first quarter expired, trimming the deficit to 26-19. Through one quarter, Beal and his not-so-gimpy ankle led the Wiz with 10 points. Meanwhile, the Nets were having an easy time on the offensive end, assisting on nine of their 11 made field goals.
The Wizards started the second quarter with a possession that Satchel rightly noted should have had Yakety Sax playing alongside it. Washington was able to claw back with the AARP unit plus Beal on the floor, cutting the margin to 33-32 on a Martell Webster three. Then...Beal got blocked by the rim on a seemingly-open dunk attempt. Beal laughed it off, but I'm pretty sure he'll be hearing about that one for awhile. Then Drew Gooden missed a bunny that led to a Marcus Thornton three, and what could have been a tie game was a 45-38 Brooklyn lead. A few crazy-quick moves to the hoop from Wall brought the Wizards to within 45-42 with four minutes to play in the first half, but Brooklyn went on a mini-run, and the refs missed a clear goaltending call after Plumlee swatted a layup attempt by Wall that had already bounded off the glass.
After Williams got stuffed by the rim on his own wide-open dunk attempt, the Wizards headed into halftime down 57-48. While Wall and Beal combined to score 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting (3-for-4 from three) in the first half, their teammates tallied 23 points on 9-of-25 shooting (1-for-14 from three). Woof. Things were even worse on defense, where Washington allowed Brooklyn to shoot 55 percent (60 percent from three) in the first half. The Nets didn't even have to work hard for their buckets, assisting on 15 of their 22 made field goals. The supposed advantage the Wizards' big men had never materialized, as Brooklyn outrebounded the Wizards 20-17 in the first half.