But the cream rises to the top, and it took only 10 minutes for it to become apparent that the Wizards would have trouble sustaining that level of play and keeping up with Memphis offensively — especially without Bradley Beal. Washington’s star guard entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols Saturday after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The Wizards who did make it onto the court Sunday weren’t effective enough on defense to help shorthanded Washington keep pace, and the Grizzlies prevailed, 103-97, in a hard-fought game.
Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said he was pleased with his team’s renewed effort.
“We had a chance to kind of let go of the rope, and [we] stayed with it. I think it’s a good sign and certainly a better way — certainly a better approach than we had the other night,” he said. “I’m proud of the effort. I know there’s no moral victories. It is what it is — we have to find a way to come away with it. But we did some good things defensively. … Overall, I thought it was positive.”
Washington scored the first nine points, but a 9-0 run near the end of the first quarter was all it took for the Grizzlies to seize momentum as Ja Morant (23 points, nine rebounds, six assists) warmed up. With its fluid offense, Memphis forced the Wizards’ bigs to defend Morant much too often — he’s too quick for them, and he had no problem leaping high enough to dodge even 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis’s wingspan.
On the other end, the Wizards looked lost on offense and too frequently looked to the teammate next to them to take charge as Unseld had to roll out a new starting lineup. Second-year guard Corey Kispert started in Beal’s place in just his second game of the season after missing time with an ankle sprain, and Deni Avdija was back in the starting group for Anthony Gill, who was recovering from a stomach virus. (Gill played three minutes off the bench.)
The Grizzlies (7-3) racked up a 23-point lead by the middle of the third quarter, meaning that an impressive 19-0 Wizards run later in the period merely gave them a fighting chance rather than control.
“We’ve got pride with everything. We didn’t want the same result that happened with Brooklyn. We came back, gave ourselves a chance,” point guard Monte Morris said. “We just came up short.”
Washington (4-6) had no margin for error. Its hard-fought third quarter unraveled when it allowed the Grizzlies to grab a couple of key offensive rebounds. And Memphis received an injection of intensity when center Steven Adams checked back in after limping to the locker room in the third quarter.
Four consecutive missed three-pointers, two apiece from Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma, sealed the Wizards’ fate in the fourth as the arena rocked with a rowdy crowd’s energy and Memphis improved to 4-0 at home.
“It was tough to make a big run like that,” Morris said. “… But we were there; we had a good chance. They made some big plays, and down the stretch … we had four open good looks; they just didn’t fall. We generated the shots that we wanted — [it’s a] make or miss league. Some good shots. We can live with that.”
Morris led five Wizards in double figures with 18 points. Rui Hachimura had 15 points off the bench; Kuzma added 12 points and 11 rebounds; Will Barton had 12 points; and Porzingis scored 10.
Desmond Bane had 28 points to lead Memphis, and Brandon Clarke added 16 off the bench.
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:
This is Beal’s second stint in the protocols this season. He also missed a preseason game at Charlotte after he returned conflicting coronavirus tests; it turned out that he had strep throat.
Beal traveled with the team to Memphis on Saturday afternoon and was placed in the protocols that night. Unseld said the guard will return home to Washington in accordance with the protocols, skipping Monday’s game at Charlotte, and his absence made an already short bench even shorter.
The Wizards were without Beal and backup point guard Delon Wright (hamstring), and Gill was under the weather. That meant two-way player Jordan Goodwin, who splits his time between the Wizards and the G League’s Capital City Go-Go, got early minutes Sunday.
Goodwin traveled with the team to Memphis; first-round pick Johnny Davis, Isaiah Todd and Vernon Carey Jr. were assigned to the G League.
The Grizzlies, thanks in large part to Adams, entered Sunday as the third-best rebounding team in the league (46.9 per game). Washington can take pride in the fact that Memphis barely edged it on the boards 50-49. Adams’s limited minutes made a difference, but the Wizards were also demonstrably more energetic around the rim.
Unseld’s praise for Goodwin after an Oct. 30 blowout loss in Boston was simple and telling: “He just did it.” The 24-year-old was in the right place at the right time, made no egregious mistakes and showed impressive feel for the game despite limited experience at the NBA level.
Goodwin did much of the same Sunday: He had nine points, eight rebounds and five assists. He helped facilitate movement on offense and competently filled in at point guard when asked.
Davis spent his weekend playing with the Go-Go. He had 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting to go with three rebounds and two assists in just over 25 minutes in the team’s season opener Saturday, earning praise from Unseld for his aggressiveness. He had 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting with four rebounds, three blocks and six turnovers in 23 minutes Sunday.
He is slated to rejoin the Wizards on Monday in Charlotte.