The Washington Wizards tipped off the new year on Saturday by playing the conference-leading Chicago Bulls, and gave the East leaders all they could handle, falling on a last-second shot, 120-119.
Bradley Beal tallied a career-high 17 assists and added 27 points, his fifth consecutive game scoring over 25 points. He also added four steals in an all-out effort. However it was Chicago’s Demar DeRozan coming up clutch for the second straight game for the Bulls, as the veteran scorer buried a corner three at the buzzer despite Brad’s best attempt to contest.
“We tried to make it tough as we possibly could on them,” Brad said after the game. “We were in there, we made runs. Both teams are beat up, guys are out, but I think we did a good job holding our own they just they made a play or two more than us down stretch.”
The Wizards scoring duo of BB and Kyle Kuzma continued to show flashes of excellence, combining for 56 of Washington’s 119 points. Kuzma had 29 points, 12 rebounds and three assists.
Brad controlled the offense in the opening minutes of the first quarter, moving the ball around to find Daniel Gafford in the paint and creating space to contribute four points of his own. Chicago countered by starting 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, tying the game at 9-9.
Washington continued to be efficient throughout the first quarter and hit half of their field goals in the first, 11-22. However, Zach LaVine hit four three-pointers and had 15 points in the frame, but it was the Wizards who led 32-25 after one.
The second frame began much like the first. After a Gafford dunk, Brad had two quick assists then hit a dunk of his own. The next six Washington’s points came from No. 3 finding his open teammates and delivering perfectly placed passes. This gave the Wizards a 12-point lead halfway through the second.
.@RealDealBeal23 dropping dimes early!
1 RT = 1 #NBAAllStar vote.#DCAboveAll | @MichelobULTRA pic.twitter.com/U1D3xu54hG
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) January 2, 2022
LaVine and the Bulls continued battling and found more of a rhythm inside the paint while the Wiz shooters went cold. When LaVine sank a floater and was fouled for a three-point play, Washington’s lead was cut to three, 49-46.
With three minutes left before half the Wizards responded with urgency, led by Brad and Kuzma. No. 3 hit a jump shot, then followed it up by finding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a three. Kuzma got into the action by hitting a jump shot of his own, which restored a 10-point lead, 56-46. Washington clung tightly to that double-digit lead with Brad producing two more dimes in the closing minutes. By halftime, No. 3 already had a double-double with 13 points and 11 assists helping Washington to a 64-52 lead.
Washington’s offensive efficiency cooled down in the third quarter and though Brad had six points, two assists and two steals, and Daniel Gafford added 10 points, the Wiz couldn’t get much else going. Their defense suffered as well, and Chicago knocked down 12-19 from the field. The Bulls’ big third quarter allowed them to cut Washington’s lead to two, 88-86.
Beal and Kuzma led the way early in the fourth frame. Brad hit his free throws and contributed two more assists while Kuzma had a quick six points, pushing Washington’s lead back to double digits 102-92.
However, Chicago’s stars took control of the game down the stretch. with LaVine and Nikola Vucevic cutting the lead to just two, 105-103, with five minutes left. The sides continued exchanging baskets over the next few minutes, with neither team able to create more than five points of separation. The score was tied at 112 inside two minutes until Brad scored to give the Wizards a two-point lead with 1:55 remaining. However, DeRozan found LaVine open for a three, which gave the Bulls their first lead since the opening four minutes of the game, 115-114.
Both Beal and DeRozan made their free throws which set up a one point game with 10 seconds left, as Beal took control of the Washington offense with a chance to win. He took a quick step inside, which made a defender leave his man, and Brad’s vision led him to find Kuzma, who hit a three pointer with only 3.3 seconds left to put the Wizards in front, 119-117. It was Brad’s career-best 17th assist, eclipsing his previous career-high of 15 against the Suns on December 22, 2018.
Following a timeout, Coby White inbounded the ball, and was able to get it in the hands of DeRozan, who had just hit a game winner the night before to beat the Pacers. After a pump fake got his defender out of the way, DeRozan found a window of opportunity to get his shot off and though Brad did his best to get over and get his hand up after leaving White to contest, the ball went through the bottom of the net as time expired to give Chicago the victory.
The Wizards continue their homestand Monday night against the Charlotte Hornets. Tip-off is slated for 7p.m. ET and the game can be seen on NBC Sports Washington.
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