The Washington Post
Gafford pulls win out of thin air
Big man beats the buzzer after Beal’s air ball
detroit — May good fortune shine upon whoever tries to make sense of these Washington Wizards. They’re not making it easy.
Two days after playing the Nba-leading Milwaukee Bucks hard at Capital One Arena but falling a few points short, the Wizards visited Detroit on Tuesday night to face the team at the opposite end of the standings — and escaped with a 119-117 win over the Pistons that required a putback from Daniel Gafford at the buzzer after Bradley Beal airballed a floater.
This game was messy from start to finish and left the Wizards’ players, if not Coach Wes Unseld Jr., with mixed emotions.
“Not our finest effort. I think we had a couple guys probably not ready to play, [and] some guys looked a little fatigued. That’s to be expected where we are, the density of what we’re going through,” Unseld said after his team’s third game in four days, with another back home against Atlanta looming Wednesday. “But a win’s a win, so I’m not going to apologize for that. Worked out in our favor, and we did some good things down the stretch.”
Beal and Kristaps Porzingis were more blunt about being humbled.
“We’ve got to understand — no disrespect to Detroit — but we play a playoff-type team, and we’re losing [ Tuesday’s] game,” Beal said. “We’ve got to be a lot better.”
The Pistons, who shut down star Cade Cunningham in December to focus on building for the future, opened with a group that featured just one player, Jaden Ivey, who had made more than 15 starts this season. Yet as Unseld said pregame, these Pistons (1551) play hard.
Fifteen turnovers kept the Wizards (31-34) from building a lead for three quarters, as has too often been the case lately. But they were mostly healthy as Kyle Kuzma returned after missing Sunday’s game with knee soreness; they just played with a lack of energy that let the inexperienced Pistons play confident, balanced basketball without a hint of fear or intimidation. The Wizards’ defense allowed the youngsters to run the
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court freely and shoot 51.2 percent. Detroit had 16 secondchance points on 10 offensive rebounds.
“Why would they be intimidated? We did nothing to intimidate them in the first 24, 36 minutes,” Unseld said. “So to their credit, they’ve continued to play hard. And that’s what you expected. It’s one of those games you had to impose your will on, and we didn’t do that. They’re going to push us. Thankfully, we came away with one.”
When it appeared Washington finally had things under control with a 103-95 lead about midway through the fourth quarter, Detroit bit back with two quick three-pointers, and Deni Avdija and Porzingis committed their fourth fouls shortly after. Avdija sat, and the Wizards limped to the finish line.
Ivey forced Porzingis to foul out with 50.1 seconds to play — Gafford entered in his place — and then hit both of his free throws, which Beal answered with a layup to tie it at 117. Kuzma then blocked Isaiah Livers and collected the rebound before Beal missed his floater and Gafford clinched the win, roaring afterward.
“It was really the big [block] with Kuz on the other end,” Gafford said. “. . . We let Brad live in his own world in that position, and he went downhill. Kind of was a little bit over the basket; I was in the right place at the right time, really. I wanted to get the rebound and put the ball right back up. I wasn’t even aware of how much time was left on the clock.”
Beal led the way with 32 points to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Porzingis added 24 points; Kuzma, a Michigan native, had 23. Ivey led Detroit with 26 points and 12 assists.
“We expected a little bit that we were just going to take care of business,” Porzingis said. “It just doesn’t happen like that. . . . Even though we won, it’s a little bit humbling for us.”
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ win:
Morris sits again
Michigan native Monte Morris missed his sixth straight game with lower-back soreness, but Unseld said he continues to progress.
The point guard had a good workout Monday, and the team wanted to monitor his body’s response.
Morris has only played one-onone, but Unseld said he won’t be required to go through every step of a ramp-up — playing two-ontwo, then three-on-three — before returning, given the nature of his injury.
Tuesday’s game was supposed to be played Feb. 1 but was postponed; the Pistons couldn’t make it back to Detroit as winter weather wreaked havoc on the Dallas area, where they had faced the Mavericks two nights earlier. The rescheduling left the Pistons with three games in four days starting Saturday; they lost all three, extending their losing streak to nine.