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Wizards ride strong second half to 116-98 win over Thunder

NBA: Washington Wizards at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the first quarter on Sunday night, with the Thunder leading 11-6 and off to a rollicking start at home against the Wizards, Steven Adams reached for a simple defensive rebound off a missed shot — an action Adams has successfully executed thousands of times in his life. But this time, Adams dropped it. Inexplicably, the ball rolled out of bounds and the Wizards got it back. The lesson? Sometimes in the NBA, things just seem to go your way.

That seemed to be the case for the Wizards on Sunday as one of the NBA’s worst teams, playing without its star player and two other key starters, blew out one of the best squads in the league playing at home and at full strength. Washington crushed Oklahoma City 116-98 powered by Bradley Beal’s 25 points and Otto Porter Jr.’s all-around box score goodness. It was almost unquestionably the Wizards’ most impressive win of the season, particularly considering how it began.

From the opening tip, Oklahoma City attacked the rim with little inhibition, scoring most of their first-quarter points in the paint. Steven Adams shot five-for-five over the first seven minutes, with all of his makes coming right at the rim. Brooks wisely inserted Ian Mahinmi in favor of Thomas Bryant partway into the first quarter, and that move paid immediate dividends — Mahinmi eventually ended the first half with a plus-13 in the box score.

Washington slowly clawed their way back into the game with staunch defense and timely shot-making. Beal shot—and scored—early and often in this one, and his strong offensive rebound and put-back gave the Wizards their first lead of the game at 21-20 with a couple minutes to play in the quarter. The Wizards polished off an 18-4 first-quarter run and eventually led 28-25 after one.

In the second quarter, Washington continued their strong defensive effort. Oklahoma City shot just under 35 percent from the field in the first half and Russell Westbrook’s poor play was a huge part of the team’s struggles. Though he accrued his usual counting stats, Westbrook had several ugly first-half turnovers and finished with eight total for the game. At halftime, Washington led 54-50.

To their credit, the Thunder did come out of the locker room with energy. Oklahoma City ran up a rapid 8-0 run to regain the lead, inspired mostly by a soon-to-be-triple-doubling Westbrook. But after that initial burst, Washington completely took over the quarter and indeed the game. The road team outscored the home team 36-21 over the remainder of the period. Bryant and Porter Jr. broke out of their respective slumps in impressive fashion, with the former consistently winning over Adams in the paint and the latter drilling jumpers and looking more mobile than in months.

Washington won the third quarter 36-21 and then the fourth quarter 26-19, capping off the win. One of the most physical teams in the league was outscrapped by Washington on Sunday, an achievement that shouldn’t be taken lightly given the team’s record-setting struggles on the boards this season. The Wizards won the rebounding battle 55-41.

Everything just simply seemed to go perfectly for the Wizards in the second half, and their relentless effort on the defensive end and on the boards kept Oklahoma City out of their usual rhythm.

Everyone who played contributed to the win, and the Thunder’s best highlight was almost inarguably a missed dunk. In a season where so much has gone so wrong, it was pure bliss to experience a night where seemingly nothing could.


Porter nearly looks Otto-matic

Otto Porter Jr.’s return from a nagging knee injury has been slow and steady, but tonight felt like the first night in a while that we saw glimpses of the player for whom Washington matched a max contract offer. Porter scored 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting and 4-of-6 from three — not exactly a golden performance, but he was much more efficient before a series of fading jumpers taken when the game was already in hand.

Perhaps even more important than his scoring volume was Porter’s overall level of activity on both ends. Otto looked as good defensively as he had this season against Oklahoma City and his 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks are strong evidence to support his well-rounded contributions. With Porter still signed for years to come, the Wizards need him to return to his form of last year as soon as possible — and Sunday’s game was a welcome step in the right direction.

Savor this one

The Wizards haven’t won in Oklahoma City since 2008, the first year after the Sonics/Thunder franchise moved there from Seattle. In 2008, I was going to bar-and-bat mitzvahs and dancing to Chris Brown songs. John Wall was but a twinkle in Ernie Grunfeld’s eye. At the time, of course, Grunfeld had only been Wizards general manager for a mere 439 years. What I’m trying to say is: Road wins in Oklahoma City, especially ones as fun as this, don’t come along often. And wins like this one may not be common for the rest of 2019. So enjoy it.