The Washington Wizards closed last week the same way they started it — with a comeback victory.
The Wizards opened the week by coming back from down 19 in the third quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans — a win that came without star Bradley Beal, who was out due to the death of his grandmother, as well as increasing the team’s winning streak to five games and giving the team a historically rare 10-2 start.
Washington then lost two straight games, including one to the Miami Heat on Thursday, and then went down 16 midway through the third quarter against the visiting Heat on Saturday. But the victory over the Pelicans, along with a few other comeback victories earlier this season, have given point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and his Wizards teammates confidence — even when they find themselves down by double digits.
“Knowing that we’ve been there before,” Dinwiddie said, about how the team remained calm after the Heat’s 18-2 run in the third quarter. “Believing that we can win and also trying to make the right play. As long as you’re not pointing the finger and bickering, you don’t allow things to snowball. You can stay the course, try to do the right thing and just hit a couple shots.”
Dinwiddie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma were crucial for the Wizards down the stretch Saturday in the 103-100 win over the Heat — the team’s fourth significant comeback victory of the season.
In addition to the win over the Heat and the Pelicans last week, the Wizards came back from down nine with less than six minutes remaining against the Cavaliers on Nov. 10. The team also beat the Celtics in double overtime in late October despite being down six with less than 2:30 remaining in the first overtime period.
The comeback wins are a big reason why the Wizards continue to be off to one of their best starts in franchise history. Their 11-5 record is tied for the franchise’s second best, behind only the 1968-69 Baltimore Bullets team that started 12-4, with the 1974-75 and 2014-15 teams.
Following Saturday’s slate of NBA games, Washington was second in the Eastern Conference after being in first place earlier in the week. The 1968-69 team ended the season 57-25, while the 1974-75 squad won 60 games and lost in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors. Both teams were led by Wes Unseld Sr., whose son is now the Wizards’ coach. The 2014-15 team, meanwhile, won 46 games and won a playoff series.
Wes Unseld Jr. said the comeback mentality is something that is in his team’s “fiber.”
“Of course you’re going to be frustrated, but it’s how you respond,” he said. “I think we’ve shown time and time again we’re going to have to continue to do that because we’re going to be in a lot of close games. We’re just not going to fold and say ‘tonight’s not our night.’ We keep fighting.”
The Wizards fell down 16 with about 6:30 left in the third quarter for several reasons. Most challenging was when centers Daniel Gafford and Montrezl Harrell both got into foul trouble in the second quarter, forcing Unseld to play a small lineup for the last seven minutes of the half. The Wizards scored only 15 points in the second.
Washington also continued to struggle with turnovers in the game. After turning the ball over 17 times in its loss at Miami on Thursday, Washington gave the ball away seven times in the first quarter and 19 times by night’s end. The Wizards have lost the turnover battle in 11 of their 16 games.
Then came the Heat’s 18-2 run that was quickly followed by a 9-2 run by the Wizards to lessen the blow.
“They went on a big run, and it got ugly for a minute,” said Bradley Beal, who led the team with 21 points and nine assists. “But we stood our ground. We don’t get rattled, and we kind of snapped out of it, and we made a nice run.”
Midway through the fourth, it seemed as if Jimmy Butler and the Heat were pulling away. Butler’s fadeaway jumper with 4:42 remaining put the Heat up 10.
But that’s when Dinwiddie and Caldwell-Pope took over, each making two 3-pointers, with Caldwell-Pope tying the game and Dinwiddie taking the lead. Kuzma, who had only two points until the final minute of the game, knocked down four straight free throws and played tight defense on Miami’s final possession to clinch the triumph. The win improved Washington to 7-1 at Capital One Arena this season — the second-best home mark in the NBA as of Sunday afternoon.
While the triumph was a “character win,” as Unseld described it, consistently winning games by coming back from double-digit deficits in the second half isn’t a model for success.
“It’s ugly, but we’re finding ways to win,” Beal said. “We love that, but at the same time, in order to be a great team and win further in the playoffs, we have to clean up a lot of this stuff.”