Against Orlando on Friday, the Wizards set a new season-high with two full quarters of team effort on both ends. They still lost, unable to either hold on to their first quarter lead or erase their fourth quarter deficit.
Saturday night In Miami, Washington decided to really shoot for the stars: they elected to play three quarters of high-energy basketball—and finally won their third game of the season.
Yes, you heard that right. Led by great performances from John Wall and Bradley Beal (!), strong shooting from Jeff Green and Austin Rivers (!!), and an excellent team rebounding effort (!!!), the Wizards beat the Heat in Miami by a score of 116-110.
For as well as the game ended, the Wizards did not come out of the gate looking sharp. Washington fell behind 16-7 early due to some truly horrendous defensive effort and uninspiring post-ups from Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard.
The opening was marred by the same issues that have frustrated the Wizards throughout this early season: the Heat easily procured open threes, made those shots at an unusually high rate, and collected offensive rebounds on the rare occasions that they missed. The game quickly began to feel like yet another addition to the ongoing stretch of discouraging Wizards defeats, but then things took a bit of an upturn.
A Wall-fueled 8-0 run got Washington back into the game, and the Wizards played Miami even for a few minutes. Though Washington ended up trailing Miami 35-25 after the first quarter, the bad body language that had plagued the team in recent games was not yet apparent.
To open the second quarter, Scott Brooks’ famous all-bench unit took the floor to hold on for dear life. Despite their best efforts to turn the ball over on every possession, the bench kept it just level enough to trail 45-35 with just under eight minutes to play in the first half.
At that point, Beal came back in and led a spirited Wizards run to close the gap before halftime. With help from Jeff Green and Otto Porter Jr., Washington managed to outscore the Heat by eight points over the rest of the half, and reached halftime down just 61-58.
It was no coincidence that Beal ended the game as a plus-9 in his limited minutes due to foul trouble. Despite playing heavy minutes against Orlando, Beal set a strong example for the team’s effort throughout the game. He landed hard on the floor twice in the first quarter, but pushed through the pain and worked hard on both ends.
The same was true of Porter Jr., who played just 23 minutes and scored just seven points, but was the Wizards’ best defender on the night.
In the second half, Washington opened with a 5-0 run to take their first real lead of the game at 63-61. With the game newly close, the Wizards seemed to finally find the energy and team spirit that has been so elusive throughout this season.
While plenty of things had to go right to get to that point, keen observers may have noticed the team’s energy level skyrocketed when Markieff Morris exited the game with 10 minutes left in the third quarter due to foul trouble. He would not return, and his minutes regardless of foul trouble are worth monitoring in the coming games.
As a thought experiment, what if the first attempt to fix this is to just take Markieff Morris out of the rotation?— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) November 11, 2018
Miami and Washington traded baskets throughout the rest of the third quarter, but it is typically those bench-heavy moments when the Wizards fall behind—not so on Saturday. As the fourth quarter began, Miami held on to a tenuous two-point lead, 85-83. And then the Wizards had one of their best quarters of the season.
Led by superb drives from Austin Rivers, who finally found his footing with 18 points over 28 minutes of game time, and strong finishes from Green, Washington pulled ahead and held a six-point lead when Beal and Dwight Howard returned with just under six minutes to play in the game.
Brooks’ interesting closing line-up of Wall-Beal-Rivers-Green-Howard ended up working well. Miami couldn’t escape their point total of 95 for over three minutes, by which time the Wizards had burst out to a 15-point lead.
Though Miami closed the gap in garbage time to lose by just six points, Washington had the game well under control for the final three minutes.
Jeff Green > Markieff Morris?
Jeff Green was outstanding against Miami. Over 34 hard-fought minutes, Green totaled 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds. He was a team-high plus-14 for the game and seemed to fit with the starters much better than Morris.
In the first half, the Morris-Howard frontcourt duo was excruciating to watch. The two bigs simply took turns posting up ostensibly weaker defenders, but neither had any success. The offense was slow and stagnant, easily stalled by the shorthanded Heat.
With Green however, the Wizards’ offense came to life. He threw down two alley-oops from Wall, something even Howard failed to do in the game, and looked better switching onto wings defensively than Morris has all season.
When Morris is lacking energy on either end, Brooks may want to give him a short leash. If Green continues to give minutes like he did tonight, or at least provide the same level of effort minus the unsustainable shooting, then the Wizards may find more success with their starters.
Austin Rivers Found His Shot
As Fred Katz of The Athletic wrote today, Austin Rivers has struggled to get his shot going thus far this season.
“That’s a great question. I can’t answer that for you,” Rivers told The Athletic when asked about his dwindling shot attempts. “If I say something, I’m gonna get in trouble. [I’ll] figure it out. I’m gonna have to figure it out.”
On Saturday, Rivers showed he may be much closer to figuring it out than expected. Rivers exploded for 18 points, five rebounds and three assists against the Heat. He drove relentlessly into traffic and repeatedly made tough floaters look easy.
Like Green, Rivers can’t be expected to shoot this well in future games. But looking for his shot a bit more often could do wonders to prop up a second unit that has struggled offensively.
Washington Finally Wins The Rebounding Battle
Through 10 games, the Wizards had not yet won the rebounding margin in a single game. To do so tonight then, against a Hassan Whiteside-led Heat team and on a tough back-to-back, was an encouraging sign moving forward.
Howard led the team with 16 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end, and the entire team really got after it on the boards after the first quarter. In total, the Wizards outrebounded the Heat 48-38 — a welcome change from the troubling norm.
Next up: The Wizards (3-9) will once again play the Orlando Magic (5-7) at home on Monday.