This season, the Washington Wizards have added a new piece of hardware to their postgame victory celebrations, awarding a title belt to the team’s defensive player of the game for that evening.
On Wednesday, after the Wizards snapped a three-game losing skid with a hard-fought 121-111 win on the road in Philly, Bradley Beal got to wear the belt.
Brad didn’t have a steal or a block in the game, but he did the little things with effort and energy, getting deflections and forcing the ball out of his man’s hands as a defender. As a result, 76ers guards James Harden and Shake Milton combined to turn the ball over seven times and Philly had just six offensive rebounds the entire game.
The strong defensive effort by Brad was contagious and allowed Washington to not only end their losing streak but also avenge Monday’s 118-111 loss to the Sixers in D.C. So afterward, when it was time to award the belt, Deni Avdija, the previous winner, draped it over the shoulder of No. 3.
Brad graciously accepted the honor, and told reporters after the game how meaningful it was.
“It speaks volumes. Deni nominating me the defensive player of the game, that’s remarkable. It says a lot,” he said. “We try to pride ourselves on our defensive efforts on a nightly, and I know a lot of times it starts with me and my effort and consistency for 48 minutes. I was happy he found me fit to be it tonight.”
Brad also finished the game with 29 points, his second highest scoring total of the season, on an efficient 11-of-17 from the field and added five assists.
But he was not Washington’s high scorer, a mark that went to Kristaps Porzingis who tallied his second consecutive 30-plus point effort with 30 points on 9-of-13 from the field. Porzingis also grabbed nine rebounds as Washington took advantage of the absence of Philadelphia’s All-Star big man Joel Embiid.
“We know how valuable Joel is and how much a difference maker and how the game would’ve been totally different tonight style of play wise if he played. But we took advantage of that. KP uses his length and that’s what we love about his ability,” Brad said. “That’s the beauty about his versatility — his ability to space the floor and finish in the paint. He has great touch. I think he’s an underrated defender, too. So he has a nice game, overall. I’m happy that he’s putting it together. We’re going to feed him.”
Feed him they did. Porzingis had 11 of his 30 points in the first frame and kept the Wizards afloat early as the Sixers seemed primed to answer every punch Washington threw. But after a Tyrese Maxey three gave Philadelphia a 18-16 lead, the Wizards scored the next 10 points. The Sixers didn’t hold the lead for the rest of the game.
Washington rolled out a different lineup over the two games against Philadelphia than had become the norm over the first six games. In both matchups with the 76ers, Avdija was replaced in the starting lineup by Anthony Gill. Brad called it a challenge to Deni issued by Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. and BB was proud that the 21-year-old forward responded with a high energy game including eight rebounds and three blocks.
“Coach kind of tested him to see if he would get a response out of him, a positive response, and he did. Deni comes into the game with a lot more energy, a lot more focused, ready to guard and ready to make plays,” Brad said. “Sometimes you have to do those things as a coach. You’ve got to do something to light a fire up under your team, under your players. And at the end of the day that’s what’s best for the team…this is a team game at the end of the day and he’s very supportive of it. I’m happy with his growth for sure and he’ll just continue to get better. We need him.”
Washington led by as many as 11 late in the first and 12 in the second. The Sixers fought back to tie the score multiple times in the third and again in the early stages of the fourth but the Wizards always had an answer when pressed to the limit, and in crunch time, they held Philly scoreless over the final 2:55 to close out the win. Brad’s effort in particular over those final minutes earned him the Defensive Player of the Game belt, though he deflected complete credit, noting that it was a team effort.
“It could’ve been a lot of guys. Deni had a lot of great plays, some strips, lot of blocks. Same with KP,” he said. “So this thing could’ve gone to anybody. I’m just happy that we got the win.”
Washington will look to make it two straight wins on Friday when they welcome Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets (2-6) to The District for a showdown at Capital One Arena. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on NBC Sports Washington.