The Washington Wizards’ front office stayed mostly quiet at the NBA trade deadline, giving their roster an unspoken vote of confidence. The players showed Thursday night that belief is deserved, challenging the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference for four tight quarters and overtime.
Only the slightest of mistakes made the difference in the Celtics’ 110-104 victory.
Markieff Morris believed he didn’t come close to touching Boston guard Kyrie Irving on the pivotal play that ultimately sent the game into the extra period. However, as Morris defended Irving in the closing moments of regulation with the Wizards holding a 98-95 lead, he was whistled for a foul as Irving launched a shot behind the 3-point arc. Irving made the three free throws to tie the game with 9.8 seconds remaining.
The Wizards had one more chance in regulation, but Bradley Beal — who noted afterward how “crazy” it was that he attempted 27 shots yet shot just one free throw — hoisted an awkward fadeaway at the buzzer that missed the target, forcing overtime.
The failed defensive stand followed by the last offensive play set the tone for the extra five-minute session as Irving again coaxed Morris into committing a foul, his sixth, and Washington missed 10 of 12 shots. After coming up short in what would have been a statement win, the Wizards (31-24) found reason to feel encouraged.
“It was a good game,” Morris said. “Couple close calls at the end changed the swing of it a little bit, but other than that I thought we played them real well. We had a lot of turnovers. Missed a lot of open shots that we usually make, so that’s part of it.”
Over the past six games, Washington had created assists on 71 percent of its made field goals. While the ball movement continued Thursday, just to a lesser extent, the Wizards committed 22 turnovers, including a pair in overtime.
“Sometimes you look at Keef’s foul, Brad’s last shot but it’s the 22 turnovers throughout the game,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “We put ourselves in a tough position. That’s almost one quarter of basketball we said: ‘You know what, we’re not going to play offense. We’re just going to give you the ball and play defense again.’”
Washington has dropped two straight losses after winning five consecutive games while John Wall began his rehabilitation from left knee surgery.
The Wizards played while Wall showed up at Capital One Arena on crutches, and yet they still matched up well with the Celtics. In the first half, the teams produced near identical shooting lines — 18 of 40 for Boston and 19 of 40 for Washington. They scored almost equally in the paint and from the 3-point perimeter. Also, the half moved along with 17 lead changes and eight ties.
At halftime, Washington led, 51-49, showing no problems with playing alongside the best team in the East. However, the Wizards’ margin could have been larger had turnovers not plagued their offensive sets.
“It was solid. It could’ve been a lot better,” Beal said of the team’s offensive execution. “We definitely weren’t perfect. I think the biggest thing that hurt us was our turnovers.
“It wasn’t us.”
Just a few seconds into the game, Otto Porter Jr. (team-high 27 points and 11 rebounds) lost the ball by dribbling off his foot. After this unforced error, Irving collected the ball and fed it to a flying Jayson Tatum who finished the play with a dunk. From that point, the Wizards never truly cleaned up their sloppy play.
Marcin Gortat moved his pivot foot for a travel. Porter made a backward pass to no one in particular. And Tomas Satoransky, who had only committed three total turnovers over the previous three games, matched that total in about one minute at the start of the third quarter. And as Washington fumbled these possessions, Boston capitalized and eventually established a 75-70 lead.
The Celtics (40-16) pushed the lead to 10 in the fourth quarter but the Wizards shifted momentum behind reserve forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who punctuated a 14-3 run with a 3-pointer and pulled Washington ahead 92-91 with 2:11 in regulation.
Porter appeared to hit the game’s crucial shot with 56.5 seconds to play. While the Wizards trailed by one point, Porter hit the one-dribble, pullup 18-footer over Boston big man Al Horford. The Wizards went on to make four free throws to stay ahead until Morris fouled Irving on Boston’s final possession.
Morris walked away with his fingers locked behind his head, knowing the extent of this mistake. Irving made him pay then, and again in overtime.
“The first was nowhere near a foul. I mean, Billy [Kennedy] was behind me,” Morris said. “I don’t know how could see me swiping down on the ball — me hitting his arm. If I hit his arms, there was no way he could get the shot up. The second was foul. I can honestly admit to that, but the first one was nowhere near.”
In the extra period, Beal could not connect on his four attempts and finished the game 7 of 27 for 18 points, nine assists and just one free throw.
“It’s crazy,” Beal said. “Because I feel like I’m being just as aggressive as everybody else out there. My teammates are doing the same and sometimes we don’t get rewarded for it. That’s not going to stop my aggression. I’m going to keep attacking and get them one day.”
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