Scott Brooks has opted for nine-man rotations throughout most of his coaching career, both with the Wizards and the Thunder. That means there’s usually always a starter on the floor, no matter what combination Brooks puts on the floor.
But in Wednesday’s win against the Raptors, Brooks opted to use an all-bench lineup — Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jason Smith, and Ian Mahinmi —to start the second quarter. This wasn’t just a change of pace, it was a gutsy move for several reasons:
- A lot was riding on Wednesday’s game. Toronto could have taken back the third-best record in the East and sealed the tiebreaker over the Wizards with a win.
- Toronto had momentum on their side after closing the first quarter on a 15-4 run to take the lead.
- The Raptors have one of the better benches in the league, and they really like to flex their muscle in the second quarter, where they have the sixth-best Net Rating in the league.
- This was the first time Brooks had used the lineup in a game. It included two players who have played less than 10 games with the Wizards (Bogdanovic and Mahinmi) and two players who had been out of the rotation in recent games (Satoransky and Smith).
But the lineup change didn’t just help the Wizards tread water on the road, it sparked a 26-1 run in the first 5:25 of the quarter that gave the Wizards a decisive lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way. To understand how it happened, let’s go through the whole sequence to see what clicked for Washington.
Wizards down 24-26
Toronto starts the quarter with the ball and drew up a play for Patrick Patterson. Smith’s close out on Patterson forces him to drive the ball into the paint, where he runs into Mahinmi who swats the shot. Bogdanovic drives the ball to the other end where he draws a foul.
After the Raptors manhandled Washington on the glass and in the paint, Mahinmi’s block set a new tone for the second quarter that influences the following defensive possessions.
Tied at 26
After Bogdanovic hits both free throws, the Raptors try to attack the paint again, this time with Norman Powell on a pick & roll. Mahinmi picks up Powell on the switch, and stays with him as he drives, circles around the basket, and then attempts to throw up a shot over Mahinmi’s outstretched hands. His pressure forces the shot well off-target.
On the other end, Smith and Bogdanovic get Delon Wright to overcommit on a potential dribble handoff, freeing up Bogdanovic for a baseline jumper to take the lead.
Wizards up 28-26
Norman Powell gets past Kelly Oubre, forcing Mahinmi to commit a foul to prevent an easy layup. He would go 1-2 from the line.
Toronto will not score again for over four minutes.
Wizards up 28-27
Washington runs a simple pick & pop to free up Jason Smith for a shot in midrange area, where he’s shooting 52.3 percent this season. He drills the shot.
Wizards up 30-27
Toronto tries to attack the rim again, this time with Delon Wright. Mahinmi dashes across the lane to pick up his second block of the quarter.
Bogdanovic picks up the carom and fires the ball up court to Satoransky who then feeds it to Oubre. Patrick Patterson delivers a hard foul to prevent the layup and gets called for a flagrant foul. Oubre would make both shots and the Wizards would get the ball back with a chance to extend the lead even further.
Washington would go back to Bogdanovic on the offensive end, this time having him come off an off-ball screen by Mahinmi that helps him shake free from P.J. Tucker. Smith hits him with a pass in stride as he strolls to the rim unabated.
Wizards up 34-27
The Raptors try to free up Patterson for a corner three to make it a one-possession game, but Smith doesn’t give him any daylight and forces a miss.
Satoransky grabs the rebound and pushes the ball up court. Smith sets a hard screen on Wright which sends him to the floor as Patterson switches on to Satoransky. Tomas whips the ball over to Smith, who is wide open just above the free throw line. The Sixteen Foot Assassin buries the shot. Toronto responds by calling a timeout to try to stop the 10-1 run.
Wizards up 36-27
Toronto switches it up after the timeout, subbing in Fred VanVleet for Delon Wright, and bringing Jonas Valanciunas back in the game for Jakob Poeltl.
Once again, Toronto tries to force the ball inside, this time with VanVleet. But once again, Mahinmi makes things difficult. Though he doesn’t block the shot on this possession, he alters the arc of the shot and forces the miss.
Washington then sets up Mahinmi with a post-up on the low block against Valanciunas. When VanVleet attempts to double him, he kicks the ball out to Satoransky who drives and then kicks the ball out to Bogdanovic who took advantage of some defensive miscommunication to free himself for a wide open three pointer to increase the lead to double-digits.
Wizards up 39-27
VanVleet tries to thread the needle to Valanciunas on the pick & roll, but Satoransky and Mahinmi force a bad pass that bounces around the court before Tucker grabs it and kicks it out to Powell for an open three, which he airballed.
The Wizards respond on the other end with an Oubre - Mahinmi pick & pop. Oubre draws the defense down into the paint and kicks it back up top to Mahinmi who swings the ball over to Smith for another open midrange shot which he buries.
Wizards up 41-27
Powell tries to redeem himself for his airball on the previous possession by driving baseline on Oubre. However, Oubre gets a hand on the ball and forces a turnover as Powell is going up for the shot. For Powell’s sake, it’s probably for the best that Oubre stripped him before he was able to get a shot up, because Mahinmi had already gotten in position to swat the shot.
Washington pushes the ball in transition off the turnover. In the ensuing confusion, Mahinmi finds Bogdanovic open for another three. Toronto needs another timeout to figure out how the Wizards’ all-bench lineup rattled off a 20-1 run in just over four minutes of playing time.
Wizards up 44-27
Coming out of the timeout, the Raptors subbed in DeMarre Carroll for Norman Powell and the Wizards brought in Markieff Morris for Ian Mahinmi.
With Mahinmi out of the game, the Raptors try to attack the paint again. VanVleet gets to the paint, but Satoransky stays with him and forces a bad shot. Valanciunas grabs the offensive rebound but can’t get the second chance shot to fall. Carroll grabs another offensive rebound, but VanVleet gets called for an offensive foul when Toronto tries to reset the offense.
Now down by 17, the Raptors bring in more of their starters. DeMar DeRozan comes in for Tucker and Serge Ibaka comes in for Patterson. But just when it looks like Toronto is ready to turn the tide, Washington runs a beautiful play to get Bogdanovic a shot in rhythm at the top of the arc and draw a foul as he buries the three.
Wizards up 48-27
After Bogdanovic completes the four point play, the Raptors try to run a VanVleet - Ibaka pick & roll. Ibaka gets the ball in good position in the paint, but Jason Smith slides over to break up Ibaka’s pass to Valanciunas.
After a frenetic transition sequence where the ball changed hands several times, Oubre finally secures the ball and hit a floater in the lane to help the Wizards take a 23 point lead with 6:35 left in the second quarter.
Bogdanovic and Smith’s hot shooting highlighted this improbable sequence of events, but hopefully reliving this sequence helps illustrate just how big of a part Mahinmi played in the Wizards’ big run. His paint protection kept the Raptors from keeping pace when Washington started getting hot and created easy opportunities in transition that helped fuel the run as well.
Washington can’t count on Bogdanovic and Smith to be that hot every night, but Mahinmi defensive presence is much more sustainable. If he can continue to make shots and passes difficult in the paint, it’s going to put a lot less pressure on the bench to put up big points to stay afloat while they’re on the floor.