Wizards show they can beat champs
WIZARDS 127, CAVALIERS 115 Wall scores 37 to avenge last month’s OT loss
cleveland — John Wall and Bradley Beal recently had a locker room discussion about which win ranked as the Washington Wizards’ best of the season. Wall still placed the Feb. 6 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the top of his list, and even on Saturday night he still called it a “hell of a game with a miraculous shot.”
Wall might need to revise his list after the Wizards’ 127-115 victory over the defending NBA champions in their own building.
The loss last month proved one thing to the Wizards: They could play with the Cavaliers. But could they beat them?
On Saturday night, Washington definitively answered the question. The Wizards might have earned the Cavs’ respect after the last game. Now they have the full attention of LeBron James & Co. as the playoffs approach.
“It was huge. We’ve shown now that we can win here,” Beal said. “With the crowd and all their guys playing . . . . They respected us from last game, and definitely [now with] this game.
“We really wanted this game,” Beal continued. “Especially with the way the last one ended. We wanted to make sure we left no doubt on the floor.”
Washington (45-28) torched Cleveland (47-25) by tying a season high with 40 points in the first quarter and scoring 71 in the first half. Wall opened the game by making eight straight shots, a career high for most makes without a miss, and finished with 37 points (14 for 21 from the field) and 11 assists.
“I was being aggressive,” Wall said, “but also trying to find those guys at the same time.”
Beal added 27 points and six assists. In place of Bojan Bogdanovic, who missed the game with back tightness, Kelly Oubre Jr. returned to his role in the
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Wizards’ effective no-center lineup. As the team played small through most of the fourth quarter, Oubre scored 10 of his 16 points while also performing at his disruptive best on the defensive end.
The Cavaliers, who possess the second-worst defensive rating in the NBA since the all-star break, allowed the Wizards to shoot 59.8 percent from the field. James played with a corneal abrasion in his right eye and temporarily tried wearing goggles that he angrily tossed after missing a shot. He finished with 24 points.
After Cleveland’s pregame video concluded with the image of James drilling the game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation Feb. 6, the Wizards went about exorcising that memory. Wall assisted on the game’s first field goal (a pass to Marcin Gortat under the rim) and then made his first shot (a pull-up jumper from 15 feet). Wall would spend the next 10 minutes as an offensive master, hitting every shot he took while orchestrating for his teammates.
Around the court, the Wizards followed Wall’s lead. Beal drove in for a floater to pad the advantage to seven. Jason Smith hopped off the bench and popped a midrange jumper as the Wizards pulled ahead by 10. Then with six seconds remaining, Brandon Jennings passed up a corner look and swung the ball to Smith for the team’s fourth three-pointer. As the ball ripped through the net, the Wizards’ lead now at 14 points, Cavaliers forward Kevin Love could only turn away and pout.
“When we play with great en- ergy in that first quarter,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said, “we have a chance to win the game.
“Tonight was a good job of really attacking.”
For the quarter, the Wizards shot 81.8 percent as Wall scored or assisted on 28 of the team’s 40 points. But their performance through the remainder of the night might have shown more about the team’s character.
In front of a sold-out visiting arena — with screaming fans who parked in their seats before tip-off — and staring at a now-motivated Cavaliers team, Washington quelled every rebellion.
By the third quarter, the game grew physical. While scrambling in one defensive possession, Otto Porter Jr. hit the back of his head against the hardwood and yet got up to finish the play. Porter finished with 10 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
In the fourth quarter, as Cleveland cut the lead to four, Wall attacked a stumbling Kyle Korver, and though it might have been the one of those rare times this season that he wasn’t touched on his way to the rim, Wall was still rewarded with two free throws.
Then Oubre stepped in with his energy and effort. On consecutive possessions, Oubre cleaned up misses, beating the defense to the rim with two interior buckets. The Wizards went ahead by 10 points.
Later, Porter picked off a pass and slammed home the exclamation point with 2:24 remaining and the Wizards kicked off their five-game trip with a matchup that should now end the debate. This was the Wizards’ best win of the season.
“We just wanted to come out and get a win. You don’t want to lose to a team where you had a chance to win and they took it. They took it away. They won it handily,” Wall said, referring to last month. “You don’t want to go into the playoffs knowing you might have to face those guys and you haven’t won in the regular season.”
Washington’s John Wall, who had 37 points and 11 assists, goes up for a shot as Cleveland’s LeBron James defends Saturday night.