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Defense the difference as Wizards rally from 24 down to top Clippers

It’s been a tough few days for John Wall and the Washington Wizards, the franchise point guard has taken some public heat about the team’s poor play. Several national and local reports about friction in team practices and more insinuating about the team being sick of one another. The Wizards came into last night’s game at 5-11 hosting what was one of the hottest teams in the league, the Los Angles Clippers. After giving up 40 points in the first quarter, Washington found themselves down by as many as 24 points midway through the first half. The fans in attendance started to boo, something that’s become a regular occurrence over the past few home games. The visiting Clippers led 73-54 at the half and it looked like this team was going to continue it’s downward spiral.

The third quarter started and the Wizards had an edge about them, they were committed to fight this one until the end. Tomas Satoransky led the charge in the third quarter. He did it with his energy and effort, he only scored two points in his 11 minutes on the floor, but had four rebounds. Three of which were offensive in that span, he also had two steals and two assists. With Sato giving his teammates life, both Wall and Beal got going as they each scored 10 a piece. Defensively the trio of guards really did a good job of disrupting LA’s offense. The Clippers shot 58% from the floor in the first half, including 52% from beyond the arc. Washington’s defense was outstanding in the third quarter as they forced seven turnovers and held them to just 42% from the floor. By the end of the period the Clippers lead was just nine, Washington had started to walk them down and the boos had turned to cheers.

After being moved out of the starting lineup and a slow start from an offensive standpoint, Markieff Morris played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. He played a key role in the second half rally, like Satoransky, some of the things he did were bigger than the box score. Jeff Green got the quarter started off the right way, he got the ball near the three point line with Boban Marjanovic guarding him. Green easily blew by him for a emphatic slam. Washington got a steal on the ensuing possession and a Sato layup cuts the deficit to five. Wall then uses a screen from Green to bury a three. Green would hit two three pointers over the next couple of possessions, his defense was infectious as well.

The Wizards took the lead when Wall drove and kicked, he found Keef in the short corner and he knocked down the three. The Clippers didn’t willingly go away and the teams traded baskets as Harrell got hot. Several good stops on the defensive end, a few possessions involving multiple efforts and just good awareness led to bad shots, a shot clock violation and a jump ball. The Wizards held a 119-113 lead with 1:16 left, they would hold on to complete the rally.

The positive is that they played the type of defense that is needed on a consistent basis to get wins in this league. More importantly, the type of defense and gave the type of effort needed to dig themselves out of this early season hole. However, it’s only one game. Washington’s capable of sustaining that level of play in the second half of last night’s game, but it’s about actually doing it. They’ve yet to put together a full 48 minute effort, but that’s what it’s going to take.

Washington’s starting backcourt combined for 57 points. Wall led the team from beyond the arc, knocking down five of his 11 attempts. Beal had 7 assists and the two of them combined for just three turnovers and Washington only had seven as a team. They were flying around defensively, using their physical gifts that allow them to get an edge on the offensive end to smoother the Clippers on the other end. Otto Porter had 11 points and 14 rebounds, his biggest being an offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter that resulted in an extra possession and then points. The second unit is who sparked the rally, Satoransky, Morris and Green had 45 of the team’s 47 bench points. The Clippers have one of the most potent second units in the league, they scored 56 on the night.

The Clippers were led by Tobias Harris and his 29 points, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 17 and Montrezl Harrell had 20. Harris had 18 of his 29 in the first quarter, Washington did a much better job as the game went on of taking his space from him and making him shoot contested jumpers.

The Wizards have a big test following thanksgiving as they head up north to face the Raptors before returning home to host the New Orleans Pelicans. So while this rally and outstanding display of defense was nice to see, if it can’t be come a trend (effort and energy) going forward, none of the outside noise is going to go away. It’ll only get louder.

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