The Washington Wizards won their 5th straight game last night to move to 18-6 and keep their position as 2nd in the Eastern Conference. There were several talking points: be it Otto Porter's 1st career start, or John Wall tying his career high with 17 assists, however, one of the most notable was the 4th quarter surge that blew the game open for the Wizards.
The surge came after a scrappy Timberwolves clawed their way back to cut the lead to as low as 3, thanks a terrific performance by Thaddeus Young, who had 19 points in the third quarter. After Young's explosion made the game close, the Wizards looked like they were getting read to blow a game to an inferior team, like they were prone to do last year. Instead, they came out and turned what had become a tight game back into the blowout it was early in the game. Marcin Gortat touched upon what the Wizards changed in the final quarter. "We want to close out. I think everybody understood that we have to execute and we have to finally get better on defense and at some point. [Thaddeus] Young had to miss. We gave him a few different looks. John [Wall] was outstanding and doing beast stuff. The stuff he's being doing the last 10-15 games is great."
One aspect of why the Wizards were able to put away a young T-Wolves team was their emphasis on moving the ball. They came into the contest tied for 1st in the league in assists per game with the Atlanta Hawks, and their willingness to share the ball and spread the floor showed itself in the 4th quarter. Randy Wittman elaborated on the Wizards spreading the rock. "Seven guys in double figures, that's who we are. When we spread the ball like that and with the pace we play, we're going to have a stat sheet like this sometimes. Rasual [Butler] gave us a barrage in the fourth, and ended up with 18 in the fourth."
At one point during Butler's barrage, he hit 7 straight shots including three beyond the arc. His play in general this year has been an incredible story. A guy who was almost out of the NBA two years ago is now a key rotation player for one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Butler humbly gave credit to his teammates for his performance, when talking about what changed for him in the 4th quarter "I am just the recipient of playing with one of the best point guards in the NBA in John Wall. He does a great job reading defenses, and manipulating defenses. Marcin (Gortat), Nene, those guys set really good screens, and I was open on the weak side, and my teammates did a good job finding me."
In the final 12 minutes of Tuesday's game, the Wizards yet again showed why they are currently the East's 2nd seed. Despite a hot shooting night from an unexpected player on an inferior team, they didn't panic and were able to out-execute the opposition like the superior team that they are. Good teams will always face teams that try to overwhelm them despite inferior talent, but what separates them from the mediocre teams is how they finish off the opposing squads. This is usually done in the 4th quarter, where we'll not only see the team's best players make their usual clutch plays, but other guys stepping up to the call when the team needs it the most, like Butler did on Tuesday. Once again, the Wizards showed how the team has grown from last season, and added more legitimacy to what is now one of the best starts in franchise history.