Good teams find a way to win games.
It does not matter how bad they play or what mistakes they are making, they find a way to compete and they find a way to win.
Washington might not be at that level yet, but against Orlando — a team with the third worst record in the league — you find a way to grind things out and get that practice as a good team. The Wizards already did it in stealing an overtime win at Amway Center a few weeks ago. They certainly did it again — this time more convincingly — in the fourth quarter Friday night.
The Wizards shot a paltry 25 percent in the first quarter and trailed by as much as 14 points. The second quarter began with them chipping away at the lead with free throw after free throw. The fourth quarter ended with them emphatically making their stamp on the defensive end. A 29-16 final quarter and a 35 points allowed second half put a stamp on a 96-86 win at Amway Center, sending the Magic disappointingly back to the scrap heap as their offense slowly dwindled away.
Take a look at the field goal percentages. Orlando shot 50.0 percent in the first quarter behind stellar play from Jameer Nelson, who had six of his 11 assists in the opening quarter. The second quarter saw the Magic go 9 for 24 for 37.5 percent shooting and saw that lead get chipped into by six points. The third quarter saw Orlando go only 6 for 12 as eight turnovers muddied up the offense.
The final quarter? The Magic made just four of their 15 shots, committing five turnovers to seal the deal for the Wizards and their defense.
That is 50 to 37.5 to 50 to 26.7 percent shooting during the course of the game and turnovers feeding John Wall and the Wizards offense.
“I think their physicality ended up catching up to us overall,” Jacque Vaughn said. “I’m not sure how many personal fouls we had . I think that was a big part of it. We moved the ball extremely well int he first half. I think we had 16 assists but overall their physicality started to catch up. Give them credit for that.”
That physicality was led by Nene coming off the bench and back from injury for Washington. He almost immediately made his presence felt with some big rebounds and those shots around the basket he is so good at creating. Nene finished with a team-high 17 points and grabbed three rebounds, but seemed to do much more.
Washington did not have its best shooting night — they only went 2 of 19 from beyond the arc — but got scoring from players when they needed and from where they needed. Bradley Beal had 16 points and Trevor Booker ended up with 14. John Wall recorded a double double with 10 points and 12 assists.
The Wizards offense improved as the game went on going from that poor 25.0 percent shooting in the first quarter to 50.0 in the second, to 40.0 in the third to a scorching 64.7 percent in the fourth. The Wizards got better as the game went on and their defense got more confident, leaving the Magic searching for answers.
“I think our defense has to be the catalyst to where we’re able to get stops and discourage them on defense and push the ball and get out on the fast break,” Tobias Harris said. “We can get some easy type of baskets when our team plays physical. Getting easy baskets will shut that down.”
Nothing came easy for the Magic offensively in this one.
Arron Afflalo scored 19 points but needed 14 field goal attempts to get there. Jameer Nelson neared his first career triple double with 12 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. He did a good job probing the lane and drawing the defense in before finding open shooters. But he and the Magic found the lane difficult to navigate as the game wore on. The shots were much harder to come by. Kyle O’Quinn added 13 points and nine rebounds.
Was there a lesson to learn in this one?
“It’s great games for us to be playing right now to see how you win games at the end and what you need to do whether it is not giving up the offensive rebound, making sure that you are matched up in transition defense,” Vaughn said. “We’re learning. We leave these games and we’re learning lessons. What I do like is we’re playing better basketball. For us to come out, we had a good approach at the beginning of the game. We did a lot of good things throughout the course of the night.”
It takes a lot of effort to beat Playoff teams when they are in the thick of the hunt and rounding into form. The Wizards played with the poise of a team with a lot to play for and the necessity to win. The Magic had that fire for most of the night, but lacked the execution at the key moments.
Games come down to that.