The Washington Wizards picked up their first victory of the season on Wednesday night with a performance that saw them come out on top in a nail biting finish.
The Portland Trailblazers rolled into to town sporting one of the best rookies around in Damian Lillard and a solid front court that includes LaMarcus Aldridge and two other players in top form in Nicolas Batum and JJ Hickson, but despite solid performances from all of them, the Wizards claimed victory in dramatic fashion.
The teams went into halftime knotted at 43, but it was the Wizards that would come out gunning in the second half. Washington went on a 23-7 run to end the third quarter giving them a 68-59 lead. It’s a quarter the Wizards usually struggle in, but their 89.5 % accuracy from the free throw line and an effort that saw them shoot over 40% from beyond the arc for just the third time this season proved to be enough to buck that trend.
The fourth quarter saw Washington extend their lead to 15 points before hitting a dry spell. The remainder of the final period followed the offensive trends of the rest of the season as the Wizards fell into their usual patterns of low scoring, but they suffered from unusually poor defending down the stretch. Portland outscored Washington 23-16 in the fourth, an unusual stat for a team ranked third in the league in fourth quarter defense.
Offensively speaking this game was no gem. The Wizards only had three players enter double figures and none over 20. The stats favored Portland in many ways as Washington turned the ball over 16 times to the Blazer’s 11. Portland also won the points in the paint battle and outrebounded Washington on the offensive end 18-8 on the night.
But there was one key stat that went Washington’s way that they were able to exploit. Portland is not a particularly good fast break team, a stat they rank 29th in the NBA in. The Wizards allowed only one fast break point all night from Portland, ensuring that if they could play defense face to face rather chasing down guys like Lillard and Batum on the break. They could make it difficult for shooters like Aldridge and Wesley Matthews to thrive in this game and ultimately it paid off, particularly against Matthews who finished with just six points.
Slowing the game was the key for Washington as they held the Blazers, who usually shoot around 43%, to just 35% from the field and 32% from three point range. That sort of effort on defense and the Wizards offensive efficiency gave them their first victory, now the question is, can they repeat it?
Given their gratuitous mistakes down the stretch, fans won’t be blamed for being skeptical or feeling lucky. The Wizards did just about everything in their power to give this one back to the Blazers. With a 15 point lead and nine minutes left on the clock, Washington seemed to forget that it was a forty-eight minute game and allowed Portland to rattle off 15 unanswered points to tie it up at 79 with just over three minutes to go.
It took Jordan Crawford finally burying a three pointer to end the Washington drought which lasted more than six minutes. That gave them the lead which they added two more to, but Portland had their chances down the stretch. With 35 seconds left they were unable to convert before Lillard traveled and turned the ball over. Washington was unable to add to the lead on the other end and Portland came down and missed a shot through JJ Hickson.
The Wizards had a chance to finish the game off then, but botched the inbounds pass allowing Wesley Matthews to steal it and call time out with .2 seconds left. Luckily for Washington, the Blazers never got a good look at the basket in the final ticks.
Washington has no shortage of tough games on the horizon, but getting one into the win column will mean a lot to a team and a franchise that has endured so much negativity in recent days, months and years regardless of what happens over the next week. The Wizards are still a long way from being a respectable basketball team, but at least for one night, they looked like they belong in the NBA.