Memphis 110, Washington 104, Game 60 of 82 (Wizards 31-29)
Next to the Miami Heat, Washington was one of the hottest teams in the league. Only Miami’s seven-game winning streak was longer than the Wizards’ six-game run. Memphis came to Verizon Center on Monday night in the number nine slot in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies need wins to elbow their way into a playoff spot. The Wizards need to keep winning to show Eastern Conference opponents they’ve finally blossomed into a legitimate playoff contender.
Washington overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit and the absence of Nene (left knee), Kevin Seraphin (right knee) and Martell Webster (back) to get within one possession of the lead late in the contest. Two of the Grizzlies’ leaders, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, hit six straight free throws in the last 20 seconds to help Memphis (34-25) cool off Washington and get away with a six-point victory.
Washington shot 48.1% from the field, and grabbed 34 rebounds (8 offensive), 18 assists on 39 baskets, 4 steals, 13 turnovers and 2 blocked shots. Each of the five Wizards starters scored at least 15 points. John Wall scored a game-high 23 points, and dished 9 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds. Backcourt teammate Bradley Beal added 21 points. Marcin Gortat scored 16 and had a team-high 8 rebounds.
Memphis shot 54.4% from the floor. The Grizzlies collected 38 rebounds (7 offensive), 26 assists on 43 baskets, 8 steals, 13 turnovers and 4 blocked shots. Forward Tayshaun Prince had a season-high 21 points to lead Memphis. Conley added 20 points and 7 assists, while Zach Randolph contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The teams struggled to score in the first quarter. Randolph went 1-of-4 for Memphis, while Wall missed his only two shots. Memphis shot 38% in the opening quarter, while Washington managed 41% shooting. The Grizzlies worked the paint early, outscoring Washington 12-to-8 inside. Memphis also outscored the Wizards 9-to-3 on fast break points in the period. Conley led the Grizzlies with 5 points and two assists in the quarter, while Gortat had 8 points and 3 rebounds to lead Washington. The teams were tied at 20 at the end of the first period.
Washington had trouble containing Prince (10 points in the second period) and backup point guard Nick Calathes (3 assists, 2 rebounds in the period). Wall had 6 points and 2 assists for the Wizards in the period, and Ariza added another 5 points in that stanza. Memphis’ shooting percentage improved to 46.5%, largely based on scoring 30 points in the paint in the first half. Memphis led 50-45 at halftime.
Like a few games in the first half of the season, Washington’s third quarter left a lot to be desired. Back to back Wall jumpers tied the score at 60 with 4:13 left
in the quarter. Memphis promptly went on a 19-4 run to close out the period. Randolph and Prince added 5 points each in the run, while Conley and Tony Allen contributed 4 points each. Washington went 2-for-6 with 3 turnovers in those four minutes. At the end of three, Memphis led 79-64.
Washington’s never-say-die spirit again flourished in the fourth quarter, winning the period 40-31. Wizards’ rookie forward Otto Porter sunk his first career three-pointer less than a minute into the period, and another one later in the quarter. Wall’s 13 points in the quarter, along with Beal’s 7 led a furious Wizards’ comeback. Beal’s three-pointer from the left corner with 8.9 seconds left cut the deficit to 106-104. Conley made two free throws for Memphis immediately after, and Gasol followed with a pair of his own with 0.3 of a second remaining for the final score.
Washington looks to start its next win streak at home Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz. After that, the team goes to Milwaukee (Saturday, 8 March), to Miami (Monday, 10 March), home against Charlotte (Wednesday, 12 March), at Orlando (Friday, 14 March) and home against Brooklyn (Saturday, 15 March). Other than the Heat, there are teams coming up on the schedule who are scuffling. Washington has a chance to work a strong finish, taking momentum into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
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