Jazz Steal One in D.C.
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In another game that induces more self-reflection than celebration, the Washington Wizards squandered a chance to avenge an embarrassing loss to the Utah Jazz.
“That’s something that you never stop thinking about as a competitor,” said Kelly Oubre after the game, Washington’s defensive doyen. “That’s why it hurts even more to lose this one.”
Bradley Beal, Washington’s sniper who’s playing with a contagious confidence, had a different assessment. “We weren’t necessarily thinking about the last game,” he explained. “It’s kind of blatant how much we lost by, but it’s a whole new game, whole new team. We had John [Wall] this game.”
December 4th of last year was the last time the Wizards and Jazz squared off. It was in Salt Lake City and the Wizards lost 116-69. Whether they acknowledge its company or not, a 47-point loss can’t just be swept under the rug. It’ll bulge.
Utah came into the game 3-17 on the road, the second worst visiting record in the league. Washington entered the game 13-7 at home and hot, winning seven of their last ten.
Utah forces nine steals per game, and the wizards are sixth-best in the league in both turnovers per game and assist-to-turnover ratio. Something had to give, right? Washington’s season-high 23 turnovers came on the wrong night.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder credits his own players. “We were really active,” explained Snyder, in a proud but humble tone. “Try to make it difficult by being active. We were able to get some deflections tonight that helped us.”
Utah doesn’t tote a bunch of star players, and their best, center Rudy Gobert, has been out since mid-December for a left knee injury. That leaves the play-making Ricky Rubio, exciting rookie Donovan Mitchell and the smooth lefty Rodney Hood to headline the scouting report. Rubio had 12 of his 21 in the first quarter and controlled the pace for the majority of the game, so he did his part. Mitchell had a modest 16, but clinched the game with his final defensive play.
That leaves Hood.
With 2:21 left in the third, he said something to ref Tony Brothers and was assessed his second technical, good for an early farewell. Hood made sure to curtsey to end the act, slapping away the phone of a fan recording his exodus. Utah then went on a 9-2 run to end the third, and their lead stretched as far as 10 points early in the fourth.
“They kinda went small,” said Wizards’ point guard John Wall when asked about what followed Hood’s ejection. “They were just out running us getting stops, getting out in transition, making shots, and just spacing the floor.”
That third quarter was at best, hard to watch. The home team gave up NINE turnovers and was outscored 37-27 – a ten-point swing from halftime – and entered the fourth with an eight-point deficit.
Still, the Wizards managed to make some stops and put together a run to get back in the game. Late in the fourth, the teams traded threes, leads and momentum. Approaching the one-minute mark down one, Mitchell drove into the teeth of Washington’s defense and kicked it out to Joe Ingles for a dispiriting three.
Wall and Oubre had high praise for Mitchell. “He plays solid, plays the right way,” said Oubre. “He knows how to play the game…He makes everyone around him better.”
Mitchell though, spoke with humility. Guarding a player of Beal’s caliber for the large part of the game gives you a first-hand glance as to what’s contributed to his success in this league. For a young player, these experiences are priceless. I asked him what he learned guarding an elite shooting guard in Beal. His answer was of keen relevance to the final play. “The way he comes off of screens is unique…the way he gets open, gets downhill, and uses his size is definitely impressive.”
Second year coach Scott Brooks drew up a beauty of a play. Otto Porter was set to make the game-tying assist. Marcin Gortat, a premier screener, got away with a physical one on Mitchell to get Beal wide open. The ball was tipped or flat, reluctant to cooperate. In that split second Beal needed to adjust to the low pass, Mitchell got to his feet and hustled for an inspiring contest. Feeling alone, Beal started his shot, but changed his mind mid-air as Mitchell’s defense thwarted the attempt. Turnover #23. The rookie committed a grave sin and made up for it simultaneously during the most intense 7.6 seconds of the game.
“I have a tendency to gap screens when I’m not supposed to and I just got lucky,” he went on to explain. When guarding an elite shooter, as Mitchell was for most of the game, you're taught to chase after him and follow him through screens, not around them. If you go under (or dodge, in layman’s terms) the screen, it creates the space that shooters fantasize about.
Beal didn’t hesitate to credit the rookie for his effort. “I saw Mitchell stumble, so I tried to get it up as quickly as possible, but he did a really good job of recovering.”
Déjà vu. One more pivotal game-clinching opportunity for Bradley Beal, one more disappointing outcome. Last November 17th, against the Miami Heat, Washington had the ball down two with 5.8 seconds left. On that night too, Gortat set a screen to free Beal. After a clean catch, he took a one-dribble pull-up that only made it to the front of the rim. A week later, on the 25th, Beal had the same chance – this time against the Portland Trail Blazers with 2.6 seconds left – but produced the same result.
He wasn’t asked about the impact these results have on your cognitive conscience, but something tells me he wouldn’t have much to share. He’s the same guy who said that 47-point loss wasn’t on their minds before this game.
The Wizards take on Orlando Magic on Friday night, the third of a five-game home stand. In one previous matchup this season, the Wizards won, 130-103.