Wizards Have Just Enough Punch to Win the Fight in Denver
— Ledell's Place (@LedellsPlace) March 9, 2017
When Floyd Mayweather stepped into a boxing ring to display his version of the sweet science, his fights had a predictable rhythm to them. He’d establish the jab, pot shot the body, throw the occasional uppercut and body punches, and then he’d coast. During the coasting portion of these fights, he’d circle the ring, move in and out of his opponent’s range, and if it looked like his opponent was starting to gain a scintilla of momentum, he’d revert to attack mode until his cushion was comfortable once again. Mayweather rarely went for the knockout, he was just about controlling the variables long enough for him to win.
The Wizards followed that blueprint Wednesday night in Denver during their 123-113 victory over the Nuggets. They were impressive in spots, they allowed Denver to hang around and intermittently gain confidence, and then they cruelly shut the door and cruised to victory.
Washington could have easily mailed in the performance and written it off as the proverbial schedule loss. They played a physical game the night before in Phoenix—a Wizards blowout that almost became a Suns victory. And not even 24 hours later they had to travel to the thin air of Denver and play a Nuggets team that had been idle since Monday. Those factors, combined with the fact that Denver was without Kenneth Faried (back), Danilo Gallinari (vertigo), and Nikola Jokic (illness) made this a potential trap game. From the opening tip, the Wizards refused to succumb to those excuses … for the most part.
Almost 5 1/2 into the 1st Q, #Wizards handling the altitude and the whole business of playing the 2nd night of a b2b by shooting 60% but…
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) March 9, 2017
The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair that saw both teams shooting a high percentage (DEN 50%, WSH 60%), mainly due to a high number of points in the paint (34 points between the two teams). It was akin to the first few rounds of a boxing match when fighters are feeling each other out and strategizing their attack. Wall or Beal would hit a shot, and then Wilson Chandler, Gary Harris or Mason Plumlee would retaliate. Scott Brooks had to call timeout when the Wizards’ 8-5 lead turned into a 16-14 deficit. Mike Malone had to return the favor when his 16-14 lead disappeared and his team trailed 20-21.
Toward the end of the quarter, John Wall decided to create some separation between the two teams by getting to the basket and scoring on consecutive possessions. Then Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings put their respective bows on the quarter by scoring off of bad passes from Harris and Darrell Arthur respectively, and all of a sudden the Wizards had breathing room and a 35-28 lead.
The same back-and-forth exchanges continued in the second quarter, except dueling starters were replaced by dueling benches. Bogdanovic scored four consecutive points to stretch the Wizards’ lead to 11 points, and then Arthur (consecutive 3-pointers) and Emmanuel Mudiay (consecutive layups) cut Washington’s lead to three points. Then Jennings provided the spark that created some separation.
The score was 47-41 when Jennings shed the tentative doldrums which have occasionally clouded his brief tenure with the Wizards, and he crossed over the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray. Just as it looked like he would continue to the basket, he threw a no-look pass to a cutting Ian Mahinmi who slammed it home with conviction. It was 49-41 in the Wizards’ favor and Mike Malone quickly called timeout.
— CSN Wizards (@CSNWizards) March 9, 2017
Washington then went on a 24-10 run after the Nuggets cut the lead to three points. Bram Weinstein of the Comcast SportsNet broadcast team commented after the game that the Wizards looked like the Golden State Warriors in stretches, given that all five of their starters were scoring at will. Otto Porter hit a midrange shot, and Wall and Beal weaved in and out of the lane for layups, 3-pointers and assists, while Markieff Morris and Gortat held down the boards (12 between the two of them). The Wizards led 67-50 at halftime and the conditions certainly seemed ripe for a scenario in which the starters could rest, the bench could shine, Jennings could get reps, and they could focus on back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.
Six and a half minutes into the third quarter, the Wizards did just that. Porter was disruptive on defense and productive on offense, and the rest of the team’s offense continued their balanced attack—all five starers were in double figures by this point—and Washington led by 23 points. To return to the boxing analogy, they were ahead on points, they were in control of the fight, and they could afford to take their foot off the gas a bit without compromising their victory. Coach Brooks gave all of his starters a rest except for John Wall, who showed signs of fatigue. His shots were not falling as easily toward the end of the third quarter. Wall also had difficulty chasing and staying in front of Murray, who scored 10 points in the last 3:57 of the quarter to cut Washington’s lead from 23 to 12 points.
In the fourth quarter, it appeared as if the Wizards were simply rope-a-doping and toying with the Nuggets. Denver took advantage of the substandard Wizards defense and got open shots in and out of the lane, but the Nuggets were unable to come up with any stops of their own to overcome the double-digit Wizards lead for long. The sequence with 1:50 left in the game was a perfect example.
Murray hit a short runner to cut Washington’s lead to eight, then Beal hit a jumper to push the lead back to 10. Mason Plumlee came back with a layup to shrink the lead back down to eight points, and then Porter hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 11. Coach Malone had to call a timeout to calm his team down. Not even a borderline flagrant foul 2 call (and ejection) by the referees on Morris could derail Washington’s momentum. Despite being outscored, outplayed, and outshot in the fourth quarter, their double-digit lead was too much for the Nuggets to overcome, and they emerged victorious.
— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) March 9, 2017
A Wizards pessimist would point to the Wizards’ porous defense (they gave up 123 points on 52.9% shooting), their inability to keep double-digit leads, and how much that could backfire during the tail end of this road trip when they play Minnesota and Portland. And that could very well be true. But the argument of the optimist is just as compelling. The Wizards started their road trip 2-0, which has allowed them to both stay on the heels of the Celtics (they are just one game behind) while continuing to stave off the Toronto Raptors, who are a game and a half back. The wins were not pretty, the starters are not getting the rest they need, and in a playoff series these holes may prove to be the Wizards’ undoing in the long run. But for now: gravy.
The Wizards just became the first team in NBA history to reach 15 games over .500 after starting 2-8 or worse. This is unprecedented
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) March 9, 2017
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