February 14, 2017
Sports Insider Weekly
The Wizards are on a roll. Monday night’s 120-98 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder was their third straight victory and ninth in 10 games. They shut down Russell Westbrook, holding the NBA’s leading scorer to just 17 points and outplayed the Thunder at every step.
“From me guarding him, to the other four guys on the court, we did a great job of just making him see bodies and trying to challenge him at the rim without fouling,” said John Wall, who finished the night with 15 points and 14 assists.
The division-leading Wizards (31-21) are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference, right behind the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. They led by as many as 34 points and never trailed on Monday night. Their sustained performance at a high-level – they have won 19 of their past 20 games – prove their status as a serious postseason contender.
The game was close early, with Washington leading by just six points after the close of the first. But by the break they had extended their lead to 13, aided by 11-straight missed shots by Oklahoma (31-25). The game was all but over in the third, after the Thunder had missed 24 consecutive shots and the Wizards led 91-57.
While the offensive effort was impressive, it was the defensive one–the Thunder shot 35.4 percent and their starters were 0 for 13 on 3s–that truly won the game.
“Forcing them to take shots that we wanted them to take,” said Bradley Beal, who finished with 22 points and three assists, “we just kept baiting them, and they kept falling for it.”
The fact that Washington was able to stop Westbrook bodes well if the teams were to ever meet in the championship. The Oklahoma City star entered the game averaging 31.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 10.2 assists. On Monday, he had his second-lowest scoring total of the season, completing just 5 of 19 shots with four rebounds and four assists. He also missed nine straight shots during the team drought, finishing the game with 17.
“The focus was to stop Westbrook,” said Wizards forward Markieff Morris who scored a team high 23 points. “Obviously, if you cut the head, the body will fall with that team.”
But Oklahoma City felt that it was unfair to place their loss solely on one player.
“I mean, he’s human. He can have a tough night,” Thunder guard Victor Oladipo said of Westbrook. “But the rest of us–we’ve got to step up and play.”
The Thunder’s loss came on the heels of a Saturday night loss to former Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors, who are currently leading the Western Conference. But it’s not all bad news for OKC–last Thursday they beat LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers in a tough match.
While the Thunder may have the league’s best scorer, Wall is setting career highs of his own. This season the four-time All-Star is setting career highs in points (22.9 per game), assists (10.6 per game), steals (league-leading 2.1 per game) and true shooting percentage (54.1 percent).
Wall’s performance elevates his team, even if he doesn’t score the most points. This was evident against Oklahoma City, and continues to prove true as the Wizards rack up wins en route to the playoffs.
“We want to get better every night,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said after Monday’s victory. “We want to focus on doing our job every day. It’s a simple philosophy but it is very important.”