With 1:36 left to play, the Washington Wizards led the Oklahoma City Thunder by five points. The Verizon Center crowd, which started booing the hometown team before the introductions were even completed, came to its feet and began a standing ovation.
It was a game that nearly everyone already had penciled in the win column for the Thunder (12-3) and in the loss column for the Wizards (2-12). But in a shocking upset, it was the Wizards who defeated the Thunder 105-102 on Wednesday night.
“This is huge for us,” Andray Blatche said. “Hopefully, it helps our confidence out. To be one of the worst teams in the league and come out and beat one of the best, if not the best team in the league, it’s huge. Hopefully, our swagger will change some, our confidence will get better and we’ll get on a roll from here.”
It was Blatche who heard the boos from the moment he was introduced, but said he’s keeping his head up.
“The most important thing is that we won. Roger [Mason Jr.] had my back,” Blatche said. “He tried to get in my head and keep me focused. That’s what teammates are for.”
It’s a gratifying thing to hear from a Wizards’ player, especially Blatche, who is arguably more scrutinized than anyone on the Wizards. But pulling off a stunning win over the league’s best team could be exactly what the Wizards need to reinforce that sense of team unity and help them learn to play together.
It took a team effort to guard the two-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, who put up 33 points on 11-of-24 shooting. Chris Singleton, Rashard Lewis, and Nick Young all took turns. But the most closely watched matchup of the game was that of the two point guards, John Wall and Russell Westbrook.
Wall was badly outplayed by Westbrook in two meetings last season, but Wall held his own Wednesday night. Westbrook scored a game-high 36 points, had five rebounds and seven assists, while Wall countered with 25 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
“We know we are better than our record, but at times we don’t play as well as a team, and we don’t play hard throughout all 48 minutes,” Wall said.
The Thunder outshot the Wizards 48.1 percent to 38.4 percent, but the difference was at the 3-point line, where the Wizards connected on 8 of 21 to the Thunder’s 4 of 19.
“To play against the best teams like we did tonight, we have to play hard every minute,” Wall said. “Tonight, we just played as a team. “It is great [to get the win]. All we can do is get ready for practice tomorrow.”
For coach Flip Saunders, it was finally the kind of sustained team effort he’s been waiting for.
“I thought tonight we sacrificed and different guys carried us over the course of the game,” Saunders said. “We had good play from a lot of different people. I think more than anything else, it gives them some confidence that what they’re doing, what they’re working on — now it’s paying off.”
Just moments before the game, a senior Wizards executive stood just steps away from the court and expressed the hope that the game would at least be close, clearly not expecting a win.
“You just have to hope that competition like this will bring out the best in them,” the executive said.
On this night, it did.