Nene looked around in surprise. Standing behind him was John Wall, who had reached up to rub the head of his 6-foot-11 teammate as the two players exited the tunnel. Both had rare smiles on their faces, but well deserved ones. In a stunning upset, the Washington Wizards defeated the defending champion Miami Heat 105-101 on Tuesday at Verizon Center.
It was yet another game that came down to the wire, but for just the second time this season, the Wizards were the ones able to close out a game in the fourth quarter, and hold off a late comeback run by an opponent. The Wizards (2-13) have now defeated the Heat (12-4) for the third straight time.
“I told the guys [before the game] that right now, except your families, the only people who think you have a chance are the people in this room,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “We need to have a statement game and what better opportunity will there be than to beat this team. And they took it to heart.”
In true dramatic fashion, the Wizards had their best game of the season against the best team in the league. They recorded their highest point total, not including overtime, tied their best shooting percentage (48.1) and had more assists (31) than they have all season. In front of an announced crowd of 17,761, including Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who sat courtside, the Wizards finally gave their fans a reason to stand and cheer.
Defensively, they held the Heat under their season average of 104.6 points and defended the 3-point line better than they have all year, holding Miami to just 8-for-28 shooting from beyond the arc.
“You have ups and downs at any point in the game but we survived them,”Wittman said. “They didn’t hit bottom when they started going bad. They believed it. I could see it in their eyes.”
The Wizards were aided by a couple of rare blown opportunities by LeBron James, who missed the potential game-tying 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left, along with two free throw attempts in the closing seconds. But James still led all scorers with 26, and recorded a triple double, adding 13 rebounds and 11 assists. The other two members of Miami’s Big Three also scored in double figures; Chris Bosh had 20 and Dwyane Wade scored 24.
In yet another night when the Wizards bench outscored their starters, Jordan Crawford had 22, Kevin Seraphin added 16 and Martell Webster had 13. The highest scoring starter was A.J. Price with 14. Wittman, who went with his fifth different starting lineup in 15 games, replaced Kevin Seraphin with Chris Singleton, believing Singleton would be a better choice to guard the 3-point shooters.
“We kept Miami guessing a little bit,” Crawford said. “It was confidence. Confidence is key. I think everybody is gaining confidence in themselves and that’s making us a better team. It’s just good to pull out a win after all our hard work.”
For rookie Bradley Beal, who had the tough assignment of guarding Wade and Ray Allen, it was gratifying to see the team not only execute on offense, but turn in their best defensive performance of the season.
“Yes we won, but we can’t get too complacent,” Beal said. “We still have 60 more games. I think we just did a great job at staying poised and focused on what we need to do.”
During practice all week long, Wittman stressed ball movement, and yelled at his players whenever he saw too much dribbling and not enough passing. His players finally listened, and executed the game plan better than they have all year.
The one negative from the game is that the Wizards were hit with yet another injury, when Trevor Ariza went down early in the second half with a left calf strain and did not return. But even Ariza had a signature moment to remember. On the game’s opening play, he stole the ball from James and dished a crosscourt pass to Beal, who scored the game’s first bucket.
“I think it was trust,” Shaun Livingston said of the Wizards‘ breakthrough win. “We trusted our teammates, and [we] trusted ourselves.”