The Washington Wizards overcame a poor start and a one-time 17-point deficit to triumph over the New Jersey Nets 98-92 on Sunday afternoon. John Wall led all players with 26 points and had several key plays late in the game, including two jump-shots off the dribble and a key steal when the game was still undecided. Brook Lopez paced the Nets with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
On a day when much of the basketball-watching world was enamored with the amateurs competing in the NCAA tournament, the Wizards had an amateur-like effort in the first half. They got off to a particularly poor start on defense as they were confounded by the Jordan Farmar/Kris Humphries screen-and-roll, and allowed the Nets to score on 7 straight possessions during one early stretch. Farmar, who was only starting because newly-acquired All-Star guard Deron Williams was out with a wrist injury, had 8 of his career-high 17 assists in the 1st quarter alone. The Nets would score 35 points on 20 possessions to lead the Wizards by 12 at the end of one. The Wizards surrendered those 35 points easily as the Nets shot only one free-throw and scored 8 baskets in or around the paint, frying the Wizards by shooting a scalding 61.5%.
The defense improved in the 2nd quarter, as the Wizards forced the Nets into taking tougher shots, but couldn’t get on track themselves, and they lost the quarter 21-20 to head into halftime down 56-43.
Flip Saunders must have given one heck of a half-time speech, because the Wizards were a different team in the 3rd quarter, which proved to be when the game was won. Maurice Evans told the Washington Post that they got back in the game and held on to win with their defense.
The Nets out-rebounded the Wizards 47-32 and grabbed 21 offensive rebounds (!). Giving up such numbers on the offensive glass is normally a death-knell, as those rebounds would lead to so many extra shots that the difference would be insurmountable. But the Wizards forced 20 turnovers in the game to mitigate the Nets’ shot opportunities. They also forced the Nets into a miserable half from the field, allowing them to connect on only four field goals and 12 points in the 3rd quarter, and less field goals in the whole half than they gave up in the opening quarter; they outscored the Nets 28-12 in the crucial 3rd period.
The Wizards nearly gave up the lead they had worked to build by giving up 19 rebounds (12 offensive) in the final quarter. I haven’t seen it stressed enough what an advantage this was. All of those rebounds led to 10 extra shots, each providing an opportunity for the Nets overtake them. Of course, those offensive rebounds came because the Wizards continued to defend the first attempt well, but they made it much harder on themselves by taking nearly all quarter to thwart a strong-side screen play the Nets used to get good looks and keep the Wizards out of possession to secure the defensive rebound. In the end some hot shooting by the Wizards helped them seal the win as they shot 10-16 (62%) in the final quarter, with the aforementioned shots by Wall coming at especially clutch moments. The game was sealed on defense when Yi Jianlian bottled up a screen-and-roll by hedging high and stealing the ball from Farmar with the Wizards ahead by four.
The win was good for the Wizards confidence as they head out on a five-game Western Conference road trip and look to add another win to their 1-31 road record. They will need to be more consistent throughout an entire contest, play with the kind of fight on defense that they showed in the 2nd half on Sunday, and may need a little good fortune. If they can harness the effort from the 3rd quarter specifically, win or lose, the trip will be a success.