Looking to put an end to a two-game skid, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards had a defensive mindset in Orlando on Sunday, and No. 3’s play on D proved to be the difference in a big win.
Washington had grown tired of watching leads vanish as despite the continued success of their offense, opponents were hitting clutch shots to steal games late, sending the Wizards to losses in three of their last four games. Brad and his teammates were not going to allow that on Sunday, even though the stage was set for yet another heartbreak.
Orlando had the ball down two with reserve guard Terrence Ross scoring hot, with 32 points, including 22 in the second half to keep the Magic in the game. However, Washington played great ball denial defense on Ross to keep the ball out of his hands. That forced Orlando to find another shooter.
Gary Harris had a look. But at the conclusion of a 20-point, seven-assist, six-rebound evening, Brad came up big on the other end of the floor, making a great defensive play and using his length to block Harris’ shot. The ball found Chuma Okeke, but Kyle Kuzma, who posted a poster 27-point, 22-rebound double-double got over to stifle him at the buzzer and help the Wizards escape Orlando with a 102-100 win over the Magic.
Postgame, Brad discussed the importance of defense and how everyone can control their effort defensively.
“We have to be from start to finish a lot better and a lot more in tune on the defensive end more.” Beal stated after the victory. “Offense always my biggest thing, shots will fall, you know it’s if we can control making shots we make all of you always say that but for the most part we can control our efforts on defense.”
The shots were falling in the opening minutes. Washington started the game with a 13-3 run and Brad contributed a quick five points and two assists as the Wizards raced out to an early 10-point lead. After a couple of buckets from the Magic cut their deficit to five, No. 3 responded with a jumper of his own, which pushed Washington’s lead back up to seven, 15-8. In the closing minutes of the frame, the momentum switched hands, Orlando’s Ross and Chuma Okeke combined for 14 points in the first quarter and led the way for their 18-5 run, which pushed them to the lead. Washington found themselves down by six after a quarter, 26-20.
The second frame began with five quick points from the Washington bench to make it a one-point game, 26-25. Another Beal three-pointer kept it close, but the Wizards were not able to take the lead back and another Orlando run pushed the Magic to a double digit lead with under two minutes left in the first half. However, Washington closed out the second frame with some momentum to go in down just seven points, 49-42.
Washington kept it up early in the third quarter as Beal found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope open for a bucket and Kyle Kuzma, who continued his recent breakout, knocked down a three-pointer to pull the Wizards within two. Later in the frame, Spencer Dinwiddie found Caldwell-Pope open for a three-pointer, which gave Washington the lead.
However, with five minutes left in the third quarter, Ross started to take over the game. Brad hit a three to extend the Wizards lead to four, but Ross quickly responded with a three of his own. After a couple more jump shots from Ross, Orlando took back the lead, 65-63. Ross was perfect from the field in the third quarter and finished the frame with 16 points. Despite a couple free throws from Beal, the Wizards headed into the last quarter down by four, 71-67.
The fourth quarter began just like the third ended, Ross scored a quick four points and pushed Orlando’s lead to eight, 75-67.
Washington knew it was time to step things up, and they slowly started to claw their way back. The two teams continued to exchange baskets until Beal took control with under five minutes to go, contributing to 10 consecutive points for Washington. He hit two jump shots and assisted on a pair of three pointers, giving Washington a six-point lead with under two minutes left in regulation.
However, Orlando battled back to within one and when Brad was fouled with 6.8 seconds left with a chance to extend the lead to three, he uncharacteristically missed one of two, extending the lead to two. This set up for a fantastic finish. Having spent their timeouts on their comeback, the Magic were forced to inbound at the opposite end of the court. As they brought the ball up, with Ross blanketed, Orlando tried to screen Beal and create an opening for Harris for a three.
However, Brad read the play perfectly and fought his way through to block Harris. Kuzma then reacted to Okeke trying to score on the ricochet by blocking his attempt, sealing the game for Washington. Beal and Kuzma combined for 47 points, but just as importantly, they made key defensive plays to preserve the victory.
Washington hopes to put together a complete performance on both ends next time against the Magic when the teams go back it, this time with Orlando visiting Capital One Arena on Wednesday. That’s the second of two straight home games for the Wizards this week, as they will also host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday. Both games tip-off at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Sports Washington.