CLEVELAND ¡ª The closeness among the Washington Wizards can be seen in moments such as Thursday night inside the Quicken Loans Arena visitors¡¯ locker room.
Following the team¡¯s 110-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, players supported one another through fashion statements ¡ª Tomas Satoransky buttoned up his tailored black and white dress shirt designed by teammate Ian Mahinmi¡¯s fashion label, and Otto Porter Jr. tugged a hat over his head emblazoned with F.O.E., the catchphrase that belongs to Markieff Morris and means ¡°Family Over Everything.¡±
For the past several weeks, players have performed with a singular focus of the Wizards over everyone. And Thursday night, they continued this unifying stretch, climbing out of an early 12-point deficit to capture their eighth win in 10 games.
¡°It speaks volumes, but at the same time we¡¯re still humble about it,¡± Bradley Beal said after leading Washington with 18 points and a game-best nine assists. ¡°I don¡¯t think anybody expected us to come here and win. We did. We had confidence coming into it. We¡¯re just constantly going off the momentum we had before the break.¡±
John Wall remains sidelined, but the Wizards are still surging.
With this latest win, Washington (34-24) pulled within a half game of Cleveland (34-23) for the third seed in the Eastern Conference and joined the Golden State Warriors as the only teams to have beaten Cleveland, Houston, Boston and Toronto this season. Also, Washington snapped Cleveland¡¯s short but lively two-game winning streak following a trade that broke up the team and added four new players.
¡°It¡¯s a big, big win,¡± said Satoransky, who finished with 17 points (6-for-7 shooting) with eight assists and no turnovers. ¡°Especially how they improved after the trade deadline. They really looked great, but I think we just based our confidence in how we played after the break.¡±
While Cleveland still must bond, Washington used its familiarity as a strength late in the game.
In the final minute of regulation, the Wizards had possession and a three-point lead when the ball was deflected out of bounds. Cleveland players pointed to their end of the court. The Wizards felt the ball belonged to them. The officiating crew huddled for what seemed like several minutes.
Finally, the Wizards were awarded possession, and they captured lightning with a perfect inbounds play. Porter found Beal, who drew a crowd and quickly hit Porter under the rim for a layup. It was a reflexive decision made by the game¡¯s top playmaker.
Beal revealed how he was originally supposed to go one-on-one with nine seconds remaining on the shot clock, but he saw a Cavaliers defender ¡°kind of fell asleep¡± underneath the rim. At that moment, he knew where to find Porter.
¡°I watched a few Georgetown clips. He does a great job of hiding behind his defenders,¡± Beal said of Porter and his college days. ¡°They loaded up to me, so it was just a quick reaction play and a great finish by him. I trust everybody to make the right play and score in crunch time.¡±
Although LeBron James flirted with a triple-double (a game-high 32 points to go with nine rebounds and eight assists) and his presence alone could have changed the game, Washington survived his solo act. In the final nine minutes, James was the only Cavaliers player to score.
Five Wizards finished in double figures. Coming off the bench, Jodie Meeks poured in 10 points, and Kelly Oubre Jr. provided 17 on a trio of three-pointers and finished with the highest plus/minus rating of the game (plus-15).
¡°We stayed together and showed a lot of resolve,¡± Coach Scott Brooks said. ¡°We kept competing, and they¡¯re not an easy team to play.¡±
Earlier in the game, Washington stuck to its usual rotation ¡ª the one without the assistance of a five-time all-star, of course ¡ª but the routine produced shoddy results. In the first quarter, Cavaliers faced little resistance while shooting 60.9 percent and outrebounding Washington 14-9. Starting center Marcin Gortat, who played the opening eight minutes, then sat the entire second quarter, did not grab a rebound until after halftime.
When the backups took the floor, burdened with an 11-point deficit in the second quarter, nothing changed. Mike Scott, who normally comes off the bench as a flamethrower, missed his first four shots. The Wizards¡¯ defense appeared just as cold as Ian Mahinmi collected fouls while Tim Frazier repeatedly got cooked by Cleveland reserve guard Jordan Clarkson. Frazier could not stay in front of Clarkson, sending him to the free throw line for a pair of and-one plays.
By the 7:05 mark of the second quarter, every variation of the Wizards¡¯ lineup had produced a minus-12. It was then that Brooks turned to a rare unit: Morris replaced Mahinmi, while Oubre remained on the court with the newly inserted starters.
Before Thursday, this lineup had logged only 22 minutes and showed no evidence of being a dangerous three-point shooting team ¡ª previously making just 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. But the lineup found its range against the Cavaliers.
¡°It¡¯s an interesting lineup,¡± Satoransky said. ¡°We basically have all the shooters, and the way they¡¯re defending Brad and trapping him, it gives us some advantages.¡±
Note: The Wizards addressed their depleted backcourt by bringing back Ramon Sessions, who backed up Wall from 2014 to 2016, on a 10-day contract. The 31-year-old Sessions will make his return Friday when Washington hosts the Charlotte Hornets.