Daily grind: Call it group therapy
By sharing the load, deep bench fuels comeback win
WASHINGTON — After Wizards coach Scott Brooks sat down behind the lectern for his postgame comments Friday night, he had so many names on his mind.
His Wizards had just pulled out a 111-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks, a comeback that happened only because a limited team showed much depth. And Brooks needed time to pass around his praise. He went from Troy Brown’s ability to stand out in multiple positions to Ian Mahinmi’s very specific role in the final five minutes, then he beamed over Jordan McRae’s unselfish performance.
The Wizards (13-25) needed a team effort in every way during their win over the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the 8-31 Hawks. But with the victory, the roster that has been rearranged by injuries proved it can finish out the games simply by sharing the load.
“I thought we just kept grinding,” Brooks said. “We had a good start, I think we were up 15 points. We couldn’t make any shots later in that second quarter… And that kind of changed the way the game was going. They went up seven or eight points and I thought we grinded it out. That’s what we have been doing all year with the group of guys that we have.”
Washington, once commanding a 15point lead, needed a fourth-quarter rally to put away the Hawks. However, the team prevailed with McRae scoring a game-high 29 points to go along with six assists and eight rebounds, Ish Smith flirting with a double-double (10 points and nine assists) and Davis Bertans icing the game with a late three.
“[McRae] and I met before the game. I needed him to be more of a playmaker and I thought he did that tonight even though he got a bunch of shots,” Brooks said, “but the way their defense was playing, it allowed him to get his own but he also had six assists. And he had a lot of extra passes that could have been more assists.”
Also, Brown moved around the floor from the wing to the four spot and finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Mahinmi played the final 4 minutes, 50 seconds of the game and with him on the floor, the Wizards outscored Atlanta by 11.
“Troy was efficient. I thought Troy was solid throughout the game and that is what we need,” Brooks said. “And then Ian last five minutes was critical. He came in, prevented some scores, got us some scores and set some great scenes.”
It takes a village to raze Trae Young, one of the league’s most imposing scorers with a 29.2 point-per-game average, and the Wizards collectively worked to limit his impact. Though Young led the Hawks with 19 points, he needed 20 shot attempts and his team was outscored by 19 when he was on the floor. Young missed all seven of his looks from beyond the three-point arc.
“Just make it tough on him. Cut his water off early and just try to disrupt him, get into a flow,” explained Gary Payton II, who started on Young but had help from teammates. “Try to take away his threes. We did a hell of a job of that and just making him get to the rim and finish over our bigs.”
Young couldn’t hit a three but thankfully for the Wizards, Bertans returned as their best three-point threat.
Bertans, the sharpshooter who hadn’t
Radio: played since Dec. 21, waited in the corner as the Wizards were closing out the Hawks. What happened next felt standard. Bertans received a pass, did not hesitate even for a moment and, with a perfect arc, his three-pointer ripped through the nylon.
Bertans played 21 minutes against the Hawks after missing the past nine games with a quad injury. Through his limited time, Bertans showed a glimpse of what the Wizards had been missing, making three three-pointers and finishing with 14 points that included a flash of athleticism with a baseline dunk.
During the nine games Bertans missed, the Wizards’ offensive rating declined to 106.5, which would rank in the lower third of the league if stretched over the course of the first half of the season. Rookie Rui Hachimura and centers Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wagner also have not played over those nine games — and to be sure, they are key pieces within the rotation. However, the Wizards missed the Bertans’s ability to stretch the floor.
“Even when he doesn’t make the shot, there is so much attention,” Brooks said. “Ish was able to drive around his guy one-on-one because they have to be ready to help out because our bigs do a good job of trying to get DB open so it created some opportunities for other guys.”
Still, the Wizards did not return to full health against the Hawks. Bradley Beal worked through a pregame shooting session without any visible limitation, however he had already been ruled out and missed his seventh game of the season with soreness below his right knee.
Beal has shown signs of nearing his return. He traveled with the team to Orlando earlier this week. Had Beal remained in Washington for the onegame trip, then his day-to-day status would have seemed more uncertain. However, Beal spent another game resting on the sideline under the team’s “super cautious” approach, as described by Brooks.
“As a coach,” Brooks said before the game, “I’d love to have him out there. He makes us a better team.”
The revised starting lineup, in particular, could have used Beal’s presence. Without Beal drawing defensive attention and creating offense for himself and others, the starters appeared disjointed.
While Payton II started the game by making his first four shots, his backcourt teammate, Isaiah Thomas, missed six of his first seven. Thomas, who shot 2 for 16 from the floor and matched his seasonlow field-goal percentage (.125), did not leave the sideline in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
Instead, during the fourth quarter, Smith accounted for 13 of the Wizards’ 30 points by either getting to the rim and scoring or setting up teammates. McRae poured in 12 points while Mahinmi, Brown and Bertans all gave a helping hand.
“I felt like it was one of those things where we knew we had to step it up,” Brown said of the collective effort. “We let them back in the game. As a team, I felt like we took that personally. We knew that we had to come out and keep getting stops and bring that energy that we had in the first half.”
Wizards center Ian Mahinmi dunks during the second half Friday in Washington.