The Wizards Outlast the Shorthanded Rockets for a Much Needed Win | Wizards Blog Truth About

The Wizards Outlast the Shorthanded Rockets for a Much Needed Win

Updated: November 27, 2018

(photo credit AP)

When James Harden hit a four-point play with a little over three minutes to go in the game, a collective groan could be heard from the more than 16,000 fans in attendance at Capital One Arena. The Wizards looked set to receive their 13th loss of the season.

The game was tied at the time, and that critical play gave Houston a four-point lead and Harden his 50th point of the night. Washington staved off the Rockets, though, thanks to the stellar play from their All-Star backcourt, which combined to score 68 points and made critical plays down the stretch.

Washington was able to hold Houston to only four points for the rest of regulation (after Harden’s four-point play) and made life difficult on the Rockets by taking the ball out of Harden’s hands. That is no easy task, as Scott Brooks made clear postgame:

“We tried everything on Harden. We absolutely tried to take it out of his hands early, take it out of it late. Keep our hands out of his shooting pocket. We tried the switch, we tried the show. He was playing at high, high, high level, and his step back threes [were on]. And they iso you so if you double team him, you are going to double-team him from basically 30 feet from the basket, and he is such a great passer as you know; 13 assists tonight.”

Wall and Beal took turns guarding Harden in the clutch and the team found success in funneling the defense toward Houston’s ancillary role players. After Harden’s 50th point, he went just 1-for-3 from the field over the last eight minutes of game action, including overtime, and accumulated three turnovers.

Rockets Head Coach Mike D’Antoni was critical of his team not being able to protect the ball down the stretch and giving the Wizards an opportunity to close out the game: “They did what they were supposed to do and they played well. But we didn’t have the necessary force to close them out when we needed to and we made some mistakes going down the end. We had some turnovers.”

The Rockets players appeared to be gassed at the end of the game, as their already short rotation was cut down even more by the absences of Chris Paul and Gerald Green. D’Antoni was forced to play Harden a little more than he would have liked.

“Yeah, I mean we’re asking especially James [Harden], ‘Hey you know what, play 54 minutes and make every play.’ There’s just going to be periods where he is gassed. Until we get our guys back and get some more bodies on the floor,” D’Antoni said.

As much as this game was about the Rockets being unable to put away the Wizards, this game also proved that D.C.’s finest (they’re the pros) are starting to find effective lineups needed for them to compete on a nightly basis. This is mainly because Scott Brooks has made three critical rotation adjustments which have allowed the Wizards to get into a rhythm on the court.

The first of those moves was inserting Thomas Bryant into the starting lineup and removing Jason Smith and Ian Mahinmi from the rotation. Bryant—at least until Dwight Howard returns from injury—gives the team more energy as an athletic, mobile big man. The second move was to flip Tomas Satoransky and Austin Rivers’s minutes to allow Satoransky more opportunities to play point guard with the second unit and distribute the basketball. This has allowed Rivers to play off the ball, which has given him more space to operate. The last, and maybe most important of those moves, is moving Markieff Morris to the bench in place of Kelly Oubre. While Oubre has not shot the ball particularly well this season, he brings a versatility with his ability to effectively guard perimeter players in smaller lineups.

Morris is an effective pick-and-pop player on offense and an even more effective small-ball center on the defensive end because of his ability to switch onto smaller defenders. Morris finished the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds and was the stabilizing force in Washington’s fourth quarter and overtime efforts to seal the victory. Morris played 41 minutes and was tied with Satoransky with a game-high plus-21 plus/minus for the game. The Wizards ability to switch 1 through 5 with Morris in the lineup was a luxury that allowed the Wizards to force the Rockets role players to play out of their comfort zones.

“We did a great job of limiting the other guys. We knew he [Harden] was going to go out there and get his numbers. Him and Eric Gordon played a great game. We just tried to limit the other guys and came up with the victory,” Morris said after the game. The Wizards only gave up 41 points to all non-Harden and Gordon Rockets and that was a key to them pulling out a much needed victory.

When asked if the team is finally turning the corner after getting to 8-12, Morris made sure to let it be known that he’s being cautiously optimistic: “Yeah, for sure, but we just gotta wait and see, man. At the beginning of the year, you know how all you guys get, blow the whole the thing up. We are just gonna wait and see.”

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.