On Wednesday, the Wizards snapped a three-game losing streak in thrilling fashion against the Chicago Bulls. Kyle Kuzma hit an off-balance three with 6 seconds left to put Washington up for good after a back-and-forth affair. With three starters out (Beal, Gafford, Porzingis), the Wizards need players to step up as they have all season. Monte Morris, Deni Avdija, and, especially, Anthony Gill answered the bell. Here’s what the team had to say after moving to 18-24 on the season:
On the game winner: “I was just trying to give myself the best chance to make a play. . . A lot of teams are forcing me left so I just had Delon just kind of get flat. I had Caruso on me and he’s one of the better defenders in the league. [I wanted to] give myself a chance to use the pick either way instead of just being directed one. I was trying to get downhill at first. But I noticed that [Nikola Vucevic] was up at the level [of the screen] and it probably would have been hard to get through, probably no call again. So you know, I just threw the ball to a open spot in the floor and just this rose up and shot it and it went in.” (Question from Kareem Copeland)
Why it matters? That’s about as thorough of a play breakdown as you’ll get in a post-game press conference. Let’s break it down. According to Synergy Sports, Kuzma is averaging 0.625 points per possession when driving left, a far cry from his 0.947 ppp when going right. Defenses know this and shade him to his left hand. So Kuzma told Delon Wright to take his defender to the baseline and unclog a potential lane to his left in case the Bulls forced him that way. Instead, Chicago sent a hard hedge at Kuzma to prevent his drive. With the crowd yelling KUUUUZZZZZ, he pulled up for a magical shot.
On gritty win: “We’re 42-43 games in and the only thing consistent about us so far is we’ve been inconsistent, whether that’s being on the court being available, effort, so many different things. We have been really, really inconsistent and it’s very tough. It’s very frustrating sometimes. But we just got to remain with it. Because you never know who’s gonna be in the lineup. But the one thing you can’t control in his life is your attitude and your effort. And we got a lot of good high-character guys in our locker room, and we just got to figure it out one game at a time.” (Question from Gabe Ibrahim)
Why it matters? Kuzma has harped on the Wizards’ inconsistency all season, which is understandable. He’s having his best season in the NBA, but he has had to change roles/positions often and played with an everchanging group of guys. Gritting out wins like this is encouraging and commendable. But playing with at least most of their starters and stringing together wins would be preferable.
Wes Unseld Jr.
On Anthony Gill: “I give him a lot of credit because he’s the guy that does everything right. In practice or walkthroughs, he’s always the guy up encouraging his teammates and it’s like karma. It comes full circle and he goes out and performs plays exceptionally well and makes big plays. And winds up winning the belt.”
Why it matters? Gill put up a career-high 18 points after being pressed into service due to Gafford’s and Porzingis’s injuries. He did more than Unseld Jr. could have reasonably expected offensively. His performance was symbolic of a win where Washington had to rely on everyone. Monte Morris caught fire with 15 points in the third quarter to put DC in command of the game. Deni Avdija grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds. Kuzma jokingly (and correctly) pointed out that most of those were uncontested, but Avdija’s rebounds directly led to 8 Washington baskets. Jordan Goodwin and Delon Wright also stepped up in big moments. Gill quipped that Kuzma cheated in giving him the belt because his contributions were on offense, but he absolutely deserved it.
On his character: “I just think sometimes in the NBA we can get a little bit sidetracked from what we are called to be as people, human beings. You try every day to strive to be the greatest person you can be same as me. We just have a lot more distractions as NBA players. So every morning when I wake up, I try to refocus and humble myself before I walk into the practice facility or that arena. I gotta sacrifice for my teammates. Whatever they need today, I’m going to be the one that gives it to him. If they need water or Gatorade in a timeout or in the locker room, I’m going to be the guy that brings it to him. I’m going to humble myself as the last guy on the bench every single game. That way they can have the ultimate experience. And then on nights like tonight, . . . you hope that they’re going to do the same thing for you when that opportunity comes and tonight was a great example of that.” (Question from Wayne Cole)
Why it matters? I just really love this answer from Gill. The quote reminds me of what Steve Kerr said earlier this season: “people play basketball the way they live their lives.” Gill really does do all of the things he said. He’s always the first player to give his teammates high fives despite being on the end of the bench, works hard on every play, and brings great energy on the court. Gill isn’t going to score 18 points every night, but he’s always contributing to winning in some way whether we see it or not.
The Wizards are still on the outside of the playoff picture in 12th place. But the win over the Bulls puts them just one game back on the final play-in spot. They play three of their next four games at home, starting with the Knicks coming to Cap One on Friday at 7:00 PM.