Turnovers and defensive blunders cost the Washington Wizards (11-32) big Monday night at the Verizon Center as the Sacramento Kings (17-29) ended the team’s quest for six straight wins at home with a 96-94 loss determined in the game’s final seconds.
Emeka Okafor tallied a season-high 23 points and added 15 rebounds for his tenth double-double, while John Wall, Martell Webster and Kevin Seraphin each posted double-digit points.
But, there was just no slowing Isaiah Thomas – even when it looked like the Wizards had a shot at turning out on top in the final seconds of the game, as they have in recent contests.
The fourth quarter started off as one of the Wizards’ ugliest stretches this season. Nearly eight minutes into the fourth, the Wizards had managed to score just five points – and a handful of their passes for open shots were downright atrocious. Washington’s defense looked sluggish and worse yet, it seemed at times that nearly every player in Wizards uniform who touched the ball turned it over. In fact, the Wizards committed 12 of their 20 turnovers in the second half alone.
Nonetheless, after Webster sunk a 27-footer for three late in the fourth, Wall did what he has done best since his return from injury on Jan. 12 – he sprinted down the court ahead of everyone else – for a layup to tie the game at 86 points apiece.
Trailing by three with only 19 seconds remaining, Wall again laid one in to cut the Kings’ lead to just 93-92. After Tyreke Evans made two free throws for the Kings, Webster responded with a clever pump fake before sinking a game-tying jumper to restore hope for Washington.
The Wizards needed just seven seconds of good defense against Thomas to send the game into overtime. Recognizing that the Wizards struggled to guard Thomas all night, Washington head coach Randy Wittman made a head-scratcher decision when he called upon Garrett Temple to block the Kings’ star guard, who had 22 points and seven assists by day’s end. Temple played a whopping 13 seconds the entire night – all of which occurred in the final 25 seconds of the game.
Needless to say, Thomas made a mockery of the play as he effortlessly drove to the net in time to sink the Kings’ game-winning shot with one second to spare before the plug was pulled on the Wizards’ 96-94 loss.
“We didn’t have anybody that could guard [Isaiah Thomas],” Wittman said after the game. “That was disappointing, especially as the game went on. He got anywhere he wanted to. Right, left…and the kid made the play at the end.”
Of additional concern for the Wizards is rookie Bradley Beal, who continues to nurse a sore right wrist due to an injury he suffered Jan. 18 in Denver. Beal went just 2-for-6 shooting in 24 minutes of play and looked lackluster on defense throughout the night.
“I just thought he was hurting, I just didn’t see the comfort level in him out there,” Wittman said when asked after the game why he pulled Beal early. “I think his wrist was bothering him. I think it’s bothering him, there’s no question about it, I just went a different direction as the game wore on.”
Beal, however, denied that his wrist had caused him trouble against the Kings, stating that it was “fine” throughout the night.
Unlike in Saturday’s win against the Bulls, the Wizards simply could not build a cushion against the Kings in the first half. Defense had little influence on the first 24 minutes of the game, which contributed to the fact that there were 11 lead changes and 16 ties by the end of the night.
“We just kind of played up and down with [the Kings],” Wittman said. “We never really got our defense set, and it’s kind of hard to do that after 24 minutes.”
The Wizards indeed fell, but not without first offering the crowd a few standout plays.
With just over three minutes left in the first half, Wall, in true form, completed a beautiful pass to Nene, who slammed one in to put the Wizards up by two. Wall followed up by finding the net on his own to make the score 51-47. When all was said and done, the Wizards held onto a less-than-assuring four-point lead into halftime. They even clung to a four-point lead through the third quarter, but Thomas’s clutch performance in the final minutes of the game proved too much for Washington to handle.
“We know we’re in a situation where we can win these games,” Wall said after the game. “We have the talent to do it, we just didn’t execute. We had a couple of mis-directions and turnovers down the stretch and just didn’t get the defensive stops that we needed.”
The Wizards will take to the road for a three-game stretch, which starts Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers at 7:00 p.m. ET.
For postgame audio from Randy Wittman and Wizards players, please click here.
Alyssa Wolice is a Contributor to District Sports Page. An American University alum, Alyssa worked as a political blogger and financial reporter before making the switch to sports journalism. As a former production assistant, she covered the Nationals, Redskins, Capitals, Wizards, D.C. United and local collegiate teams. A New Jersey native, Alyssa currently serves as a community and sports reporter for a number of small-town newspapers in her home state and works full-time as a marketing communications specialist with a trade association based in Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter @awolice.