Oubre makes major impact on both ends in easy win
At his best, Kelly Oubre Jr. is spreading his arms and nagging ballhandlers. He’s clapping incessantly after defensive stops or doing push-ups after taking offensive fouls a few feet away from the opponent’s bench.
Although one player on the Washington Wizards’ roster should not carry the burden of the team’s recent defensive issues, Oubre’s activity serves as a bellwether of sorts. If he is practicing fundamental concepts while still unleashing primal energy after big stops, then his play tends to mirror that of his teammates who have set the defensive tone. On Saturday night, the best of Oubre showed in the Wizards’ 113-94 rout of the Atlanta Hawks.
Washington (7-5) held its second straight opponent under 100 points, a positive trend for a defense that has struggled early in the season. Although the Hawks shot freely from the threepoint arc (14 for 33), Washington blocked 10 shots.
Oubre did not compile glamorous defensive statistics — he had just one steal — but played wisely in limiting the Hawks’ perimeter attack. Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroder, who lit up Washington for 24.6 points per game during an Eastern Conference first-round series last season, scored just seven points on 2-for16 shooting. As a team, Atlanta (2-11) made just 41 percent from the floor, and a big reason was wing defenders contesting shots.
“This whole week has been a reevaluation of myself,” said Oubre, who scored 18 points and secured seven rebounds. “I kind of lost sight that defense is my strong suit. My strongest suit. I’m just back to that.”
Coach Scott Brooks said it’s no coincidence that Oubre has strong offensive games on nights he flourishes defensively.
“I’ve been with him for a year,” Brooks said. “When he’s solid defensively, he always has great games offensively, and the game rewards him that way. Tonight was one of his best defensive games. He didn’t gamble. He didn’t get beat on back doors. He just played solid basketball, and he was terrific on offense.”
As a young player who often bets on the big play, Oubre sometimes has difficulty staying within the team framework. On Saturday night, Oubre found moments to play smart and still hit the home run: After taking a push to the back on a flare screen and forcing Atlanta into another turnover, Oubre did four pushups before rising to his feet.
“I’m a risky player, so I’m in passing lanes a lot. I like to hack. I like to reach, do anything that I can do to pretty much get the upper edge, and sometimes it works to my detriment,” Oubre said. “So just being solid means just stay solid, don’t reach and don’t go for steals.”
Inside the Wizards’ locker room, Oubre matched well with forward Mike Scott as part of their agreement to wear hockey jerseys to the game. Since coming to the Wizards, Scott has shown a fashion sense, sporting a customized NHL jersey to almost every game. So while Oubre chose a black-and-white sweater with his name on the back, Scott chose a Carolina Hurricanes jersey with “MARSUPIALS” stitched across the name plate.
On the court, the two fashionable forwards provided a needed spark off the bench.
The Wizards opened a 25-point lead in the final quarter as the starters did not have to leave the sideline. Scott scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth.
With the bench fully functional, every Wizards starter played under 28 minutes. Bradley Beal led the team with 19 points, falling short of the 20-point mark for the first time in six games. Markieff Morris made 8 of 10 shots for 18 points, and John Wall, who felt “very sick” Saturday, finished with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“Came in with a ski mask on today,” Wall said. “One of my migraines came back, and I had a cold on top of it. I didn’t get to warm up before the game. I had to get two IVs so I could have some type of energy.”
At times, both teams’ offense execution could have used medical attention.
In a game dotted with turnovers — the teams combined for 47, nearly one a minute — the tempo remained static. It was a ragged game, sputtering in backand-forth disorder. Early in the first quarter, Hawks forward Taurean Prince stole a pass from Beal. Seconds later, Beal collected a bad delivery from Schroder.
An officiating crew that frequently stopped the action while showing little tolerance for moving picks didn’t help either team find a rhythm — and especially limited the Wizards’ best screener, center Marcin Gortat. Through the half, Gortat collected three personal fouls, two on the offensive end while trying to help teammates get open, and played nearly 17 minutes of scoreless basketball.
Even after closing the first half on a 19-5 run, the Wizards failed to build upon that momentum. In the third quarter, Washington matched its turnover total from the first half with nine giveaways, and those lowlights included Morris flubbing a behind-theback pass to Gortat and Wall picking up his third foul of the quarter with a charge.
However, the Wizards finally found their pace at the start of the fourth quarter. The five-man bench rotation of Oubre, Scott, Tim Frazier, Jodie Meeks and Ian Mahinmi clicked as the team scored 12 straight points. Capitalizing on Atlanta’s mistakes, the Wizards poured in layups and dunks. With 7:38 remaining in the game, Scott, who played his first five seasons in Atlanta, connected with Frazier on an alleyoop finish and opened a 94-69 lead, the Wizards’ largest of the night.
Bradley Beal finished with 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals in the Wizards’ win.