Anecdotally speaking, January seems like the first month of the NBA calendar where you start to get some truly confounding results. Up until Christmas, teams* are typically giving something resembling their best effort on a nightly basis, so you don’t see too many complete stinkers (*non-Wizards, non-Warriors division).
True or not, the January Hangover has benefited Washington quite a bit in the new year, as 2019 is now home to the Wizards’ two best wins of the season. Though the Wiz followed up their stellar road win over Oklahoma City on Sunday with a poor performance in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the good guys came right back and blew the Sixers out of the water at home on Wednesday, winning 123-106 over one of the East’s best teams.
Washington needs every win it can get amid the race for a playoff spot, and to earn two of these last three against the league’s best teams is quite a feat. While poor, perhaps sleepy performances from the Thunder and Sixers certainly contributed to the outcomes, it was up to the Wizards to go out there and take it — and they did just that.
As in Tuesday’s game, the Wizards got off to a strong start. After back-and-forth scoring left the two teams tied at eight points apiece, the Wizards pushed forward with a 7-0 run bookended by two Trevor Ariza buckets. In fact, Beal and Ariza actually scored all of Washington’s first 19 points. Though eight first-quarter turnovers robbed the Wizards of a bigger lead, they still bested the Sixers 25-20 after one.
The Wizards cleaned up their play in the second quarter and the team’s dreams of a big lead quickly came to fruition. Washington opened up the second period on a fiery 12-0 run. The Wizards’ fast-growing lead reached as many as 20 when Sam Dekker hit a 23-foot jump shot with eight minutes to play in the second quarter.
Though Philadelphia pushed back a bit, the Wizards still ended the quarter with a 63-48 advantage. Beal scored 18 points in the first half and Otto Porter Jr. came off the bench to add 15 of his own. Porter Jr. would finish with 23 points, six rebounds and three steals, adding another strong showing to his ongoing resurgence.
The third quarter, however, belonged to Thomas Bryant, who played just four first-half minutes due to foul trouble before exploding in the second half. Bryant recorded nine points (including his eighth three-pointer of the season), six rebounds and two assists in the period, frankly owning his match-up with MVP candidate Joel Embiid during that stretch. Embiid ended the night with a minus-25 in the box score, indicating some of the Sixers’ struggles with him on the floor despite his superb statline.
Though the Wizards didn’t really extend their lead in the third — they won the quarter 29-27 — Bryant’s play helped stave off a couple of threatening Sixers runs to keep the Wizards in control.
Just as Bryant owned the third, Beal owned the fourth. At one point, Brad uncorked a 14-point personal run to put the Wizards up 116-95 with three minutes remaining — effectively ending the game on his own. Beal finished with 34 points on 21 shots and five assists to boot, further bolstering his All-Star case as voting nears the January 21 deadline.
Though Beal and Porter Jr. were the Wizards’ MVPs of the night, it’s hard not to gush once again over the performance of Thomas Bryant. It has just been so long since Washington had a big man who could impose his will like Bryant can — not with strength or skill necessarily, but with energy and bounce. Just look at this play, which came shortly after a great stop-and-rebound at the rim against Embiid:
That is not something you can reliably expect from any NBA center, and yet Bryant looked entirely comfortable playing the role of rim protector and playmaker on back-to-back possessions.
Bryant wasn’t needed in the fourth, and so finished with just his 9-6-2 third-quarter statline, but for five minutes he was the most impactful player on the floor. What a fun guy to watch.
Your Moment of Halftime Kids Game Zen
You’ll see that one on SportsCenter tomorrow.