By John Powell
Even without John Wall, still hampered by a sprained ankle sustained in Chicago, the Wizards have found ways to win.
On Friday night, the Washington Wizards (4-7) found a way to win a nail-biter against the Memphis Grizzlies (4-9) with a 89-86 final score.
Without the speedy guard, the Wizards success was measured with their ball sharing and dispersed offensive production.
The first quarter did not see either team find traction. Arenas was the lone bright spot in the lineup, going 3-4 from the field, with a 3-pointer and two free throws, putting his team up by nine points early.
It was the beginning of a productive night for him, ending with 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting and eight made free throws.
“Out there, we are just playing well, looking for each other, playing together,” Arenas said. “And it has been fun.”
Even though the Grizzlies gave away three steals in the second quarter, their superior shooting percentage, .385 to the Wizards’ .250, gave then the lead. Washington did not give a shooting foul in the second quarter, but went 10-12 on their free throw tries, keeping them in the game, only down 43-45 at the half.
The third quarter was no different in shooting, unless Kirk Hinrich is accounted for. Hinrich’s teammates went 4-14 from the floor, only managing 11 points.
“You have to have a feel for them,” Hinrich said of his free throw shooting. “When you’ve missed two or three jumpers in a row as a team, it has to be a conscious effort to attack the basket and put the pressure on the defense.”
But he took the lead of his team and, while the Grizzlies’ scoring was well distributed, Hinrich scored 12 consecutive points. He forced the Memphis defense, especially Mike Conley, to foul him and went 5-5 from the free throw line to stay in the game.
“I thought that Kirk (Hinrich) basically got (Mike) Conley in foul trouble,” Saunders said. “Every other guard they brought in there, he got them frustrated where they could not handle the ball.”
With the Wizards playing with high energy in front of their home crowd, Memphis found themselves in early foul trouble, putting Washington in the bonus.
Consistent free throw shooting was the difference on paper. Both teams went 7-17 from the floor, but Hinrich’s 4-of-4 free throw shoting and Arenas’s 2-of-2 free throw shooting more than accounted for the Grizzlies’ shooting, who went 4-of-8 as a team.
Even Arenas’ defense looked good, as he help O.J. Mayo to 1-of-11 shooting for a mere three points.
JaVale McGee kept the energy he played with over the last few games, and after giving the ball away on offense, smacked the ball away from behind Conley on the other side of the court. It was a shot that would have brought Memphis within one of Washington.
“I said, ‘JaVale, you had two play of the games (sic),” Saunders said. “One for them and one for us.’”
McGee seemed to be merely trying to make up for the mental gaff with his defensive play. All this effort came in a strong game, as he took a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
“I turned the ball over so I did not want to get penalized for doing that so I had to make up for it,” said McGee. “So I just ran down as hard as I could. Luckily he slowed down a little bit and I was still in my stride so I just jumped.”
Instead, the Wizards continued to work on their run, going from a 79-79 tie to an 87-81 lead.
With only tens seconds left in the game, the Grizzlies were down 89-86. They moved the ball down the floor where Mayo, who only had three points on the night, missed the first 3-point try and Conley missed the second to end the game.
“Well normally, those were games last year we had always found a way to lose,” said Saunders. “So it’s nice to get one.”