Wizards struggle early, rally late to blot out the Suns

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As the Washington Wizards closed out a tight game, players underwent personality shifts. The game’s leading scorer made a pivotal defensive play, then the defensively minded backup center scored the decisive basket.

The young point guard played the entire fourth quarter and handled the pressure while the starting frontcourt, mostly a lopsided duo that favored one player, contributed backbreaking buckets in the Wizards’ 109-99 win over the Phoenix Suns.

Bradley Beal continued his torrid scoring stretch, pouring in 34 points one game after scoring a career-high 51. He made 13 of 22 shots, but his best contribution in the fourth quarter came on the defensive end. With 4:56 to play and the Wizards leading by two, Beal sacrificed his body for a charge against Suns forward Marquese Chriss.

“I’m a hustler! I can’t just be a straight scorer,” Beal protested against a reporter’s inquiry about his charge-taking ability. “I can contribute in many ways.”

Showing his range, Beal credited his “tricks” in coaxing rookie Josh Jackson into his sixth foul with about three minutes left to play. After making both free throws, Beal added a pull-up from 20 feet away but had help in the fourth quarter and throughout the game.

Markieff Morris scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while the Wizards’ bench totaled 39 points with big efforts from Kelly Oubre Jr. (12), Ian Mahinmi (10) and Mike Scott, who scored eight points and has connected on all eight of his field goal attempts over the past two games.

“I thought our bench has done a good job the last week and a half, last two weeks,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “We just got to keep doing it. It’s the entire team, the starters and the bench, we’re all together but you like to have them both full at the same game.”

The Wizards (14-11) trailed by 12 in the first quarter before rallying for consecutive wins for the first time since Nov. 11, when the team went on a four-game winning streak, the longest of the season. Still, Morris didn’t want to proclaim that a corner now been turned.

“Not to take nothing away from these teams,” Morris said, “but you’ve got to look at the teams that we beat. Tonight we won a game without their best player [Devin Booker]. We got a Clippers team that’s got a bunch of players hurt. A Brooklyn team that’s middle of the pack. So those are games, that in all honesty, we’re supposed to win.”

This run has mirrored Beal’s personal scoring blitz. In his career night in Portland, Beal stayed hot from the perimeter. In Phoenix, with his three-point shot not falling as frequently, he played an efficient game within the arc and closer to the rim.

Both Beal and the bench feasted through the second quarter by showing their strength around the paint. Scott damaged the Suns (9-18) on both sides of the key, casting aside Mike James on the left block before bullying Josh Jackson on the right and drawing a foul. That particular play might have rankled Suns point guard Tyler Ulis, who exchanged words with Scott as the pair walked to their separate benches.

“A lot of teams take away my three-ball,” Beal said. “But I don’t force it. I take what the defense gives me. They put Ulis on me a few times and I feel like I can shoot right over him, nothing against him. I feel like I can take advantage of that matchup.”

It was a rough quarter for Ulis, the smallest man on the court generously listed at 5 feet 9.

The Wizards targeted Ulis. With a smooth step-back move, Beal made Ulis commit to a reach and his foul generated a three-point play. When Beal matched up against Ulis again, the Wizards ran an action to get him free on a back screen set by Marcin Gortat.

Beal then crisscrossed the paint and shooed away his diminutive defender for the easy pullup jumper. Later, after Ulis hit the side of the backboard, Beal started a fast break and threw a cross-court pass to Oubre, who elevated over Ulis for a three-pointer.

Through the second quarter, Beal was the only starter to score (11 points) while the reserves Oubre, Scott and Mahinmi accounted for the other 20 points.

After halftime, the Wizards’ offensive diversified as Morris scored 10 points on 3-of-3 shooting in the third quarter. The game tightened, but Beal again came to the rescue — beating the buzzer with a rushed 14-footer off glass and propelling Washington to the 85-84 advantage.

The Wizards led by two points in the final five minutes, and held on with a balanced effort that included Tomas Satoransky running the point. Filling in for starter Tim Frazier through the entire final frame, Satoransky found Morris for a fast-break dunk to give Washington the 100-96 lead.

A play later, Otto Porter Jr. produced just his second field goal of the game. Mahinmi then grabbed a key rebound and finished a difficult layup while getting fouled, boosting the Wizards to an 11-point lead with 2:38 to play.

As a team, the Wizards shot 50.6 percent and edged Phoenix with 48 points in the paint.

Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/wizards/wizards-struggle-early-rally-late-to-take-out-the-suns/2017/12/07/d8143f36-db83-11e7-b1a8-62589434a581_story.html

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