THREE POINTS: wild win in milwaukee worth it

BY BEN STANDIG | FEB. 28, 2018

WIZARDS 107 BUCKS 104

THREE POINTS

1. Early lead, late hang on. Blowing most of a 21-point lead and holding on for dear life in the final second’s sounds eerily similar to those numerous frustration-filled games. This wasn’t that.

Yes, the Wizards dominated early with their version of the “beautiful game” minus the kicking for a 26-5 start. They scored a season-high 40 points in the first quarter. Then they let the game get closer than Metro riders during the morning commute.

Yes, Milwaukee had the margin inside single digits during the third quarter as the Bucks hit 58.8 percent of their field-goal attempts and the Wizards so did not.

Yes, the lead was just one with 3:37 remaining and Giannis Antetokounmpo had the ball in his massive hands 13 feet from the basket with a chance to tie the game with 4.3 seconds remaining.

This was different because the Wizards did not buckle. They did not cave. They did not look ahead to Wednesday’s mega-showdown in Chinatown against Golden State. Milwaukee had the deficit down to one early in the fourth. At that point, any in-game wagering surely put the odds on the Bucks. Washington kept bucking the momentum.

The defense found strength. The Bucks shot 34.8 percent from the field in the final period. Over the previous 12 games, opponents committed a league-high 15.6 turnovers against Washington. Milwaukee finished with 17. Antetokounmpo’s stat line (23-13-8 with six blocks and three steals) wowed, but he never quite took over late. He also missed the potential game-tying shot.

Bradley Beal scored eight of his team-high 21 points in the fourth. The last of his eight assists – a deft feed to a Markieff Morris recognizing space down the middle of Milwaukee’s defense – set up a needed dunk inside the final two minutes. Beal calmly sank a bomb from beyond the arc with 59 seconds remaining for a 106-101 lead. For a player not always smooth in point-guard mode who also entered the game last in the NBA in clutch 3-point shooting percentage, both plays bucked the trend.

The most important trend for the Wizards, 10-3 over the past 13 games, is that they now compete nightly. Only twice during this 13-game stretch did they look pedestrian. That’s normal during an NBA season. What happened for much of the season was irregular for a contender and unwanted by any coach.

After the Hornets blasted the Wizards in mid-January for a 133-109 loss, Scott Brooks was adamant

“We’ve got to find guys that are going to compete,” Brooks said. “Can’t win a game in this league and not compete. You’ve got to compete for each other. It has to be a brotherhood. They were making shots. We were helping them make shots. It’s unacceptable the way we competed.”

This is something a coach tells a team filled with non-legal drinkers who have yet to learn the art of competition or a sad sack of professionals not earning their money. Even after Sunday’s win over Philadelphia, Brooks said, “I keep telling our guys. Just compete and we can live with the results.”

That he resorted to such a lowest common denominator at times this season reminds us just how far removed the Wizards were from true conference contention. Frustration wasn’t just over setbacks to teams with losing records. There were several no-calorie wins as well. For chunks of the season the Wizards were toothless. Now, Brooks can now discuss the need to compete in normal coachspeak rather than straight up begging. These Wizards battle – and keep eating up the competition.

2. Another reminder. This game was an example of why the Wizards should hope the playoff seeding gods avoid giving them the Bucks in round one of the Eastern Conference playoffs. With Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee would have the best player in the series even if Wall plays. 76ers big man Joel Embiid is another matchup nightmare who hurts the Wizards on the boards. Philly’s main stars just have not experienced playoff basketball. That takes a minute.

Antetokounmpo received his baptism last year. The Wizards have not shown the ability to stop him. Parker, who missed most of the season recovering from a knee injury, provides another potential rock star. Not saying the Wizards would lose, no, no. Just noting that if given a choice virtually any of the other likely options appear better on paper and in real life for the Wizards. The win evened the season series 2-2, meaning the potential seeding tiebreaker is now a non-factor.

3. Porter picks up, drops off. Otto Porter scored all 17 of his points in the first half. Let’s skip pas the ugly second half (0-for-7 FG) and note Porter landed hard on his right elbow during the fourth quarter. Though he stayed in the game, that tumble for that slender frame could sting come morning.

When the Wizards faced the Warriors way back on Oct. 29, Porter was arguably the best player for either team. He finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds. He sank 7-of-9 3-pointers. He played with the overt confidence, something not typically part of his arsenal, but a quiver in his bow more often than not now.

Even without John Wall the Wizards have an interesting five-man unit to face Golden State’s death lineup. Dana White should promote the Morris-Draymond Green matchup. Beal and Klay Thompson is a battle of smooth jump-shooting heavyweights. Nobody truly stops Stephen Curry, but Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre Jr. have needed length if guarding the former MVP. Porter’s shooting, versatility and smarts ties the whole room together. For any shot at taking down the champs, the Wizards need an able-bodied and full-throated Porter at the ready.

File photo by Joe Glorioso for The Sports Capitol

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