- The Washington Times
Friday, November 5, 2021

Seven different Wizards scored in double figures to lead Washington to a 115-87 win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. 

Bradley Beal led the starters with 17 points, while Daniel Gafford (15 points), Kyle Kuzma (13), Spencer Dinwiddie (12) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (12) all scored double digits as well. Off the bench, forward Montrezl Harrell led all players with 18 points, while guard Raul Neto chipped in with 15. 

“That’s how it should look,” said Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. about his team’s balanced scoring.

“This is how we want to play,” said Beal. “The ball is moving, bodies are flying around, everybody’s getting touches and being aggressive. Granted, a lot of it was predicated off us getting stops. … We’ve been harping on that the past few days of getting stops and moving bodies and moving the ball on the offensive end. We have so much talent, we have to utilize it all.”

The victory snaps the Wizards’ two-game losing streak. Washington (6-3) opened the season 5-1 — the franchise’s best start since the 2005-06 season — but lost Monday to Atlanta and Wednesday to Toronto. 

Despite the solid start to the season, the Wizards entered the game 20th in the NBA in field goal percentage and 26th in 3-point percentage. On Friday, they shot 58.3% from the field — a season-high — and 40% from behind the arc — their second-best mark through nine games. Memphis, meanwhile, shot 35.4% from the field and made only six of their 31 3-point attempts. 

“We got going early and made shots,” Unseld said. “We had 15 assists at half and 34 for the game. That’s a terrific number, and 70% of our made field goals were assisted, which is a tremendous number. If we continue to play that style of ball, we’re tough to guard.”

Memphis scored the first basket of the game at Capital One Arena, but that was the only lead the Grizzlies would hold all night.

After Washington’s loss to Toronto on Wednesday, Unseld said he was disappointed with his team’s effort to open the game. The Wizards got down early and couldn’t catch up in the 109-100 loss. 

Friday’s contest couldn’t have been any different, as the Wizards opened the game red hot from the field, making 12 of their first 15 shots to take a 29-17 lead. 

“It wasn’t just tonight; it started with shootaround,” Unseld said. “We made that point yesterday in the film session, and the guys responded. That’s what we were looking for.”

However, the Grizzlies, led by Jaren Jackson Jr.’s nine first-quarter points, then went on a 9-0 run and trailed by only four at the end of the quarter. 

The Wizards took a 58-44 lead with about four minutes remaining in the second after a Kuzma 3-pointer and a transition layup from Neto, who made all but one of his eight attempts and added five rebounds and three assists. 

“Raul is always going to bring that energy,” Unseld said. “He’s kind of a sparkplug in that role. He’s going to defend, push the pace and get downhill. And he’s looking to share the ball, which I think is contagious.”

A key part of the Wizards getting an early lead was the slow start from Grizzlies star Ja Morant, who entered the game tied for fourth in the NBA in scoring at 27 points per game. Caldwell-Pope was often the player tasked with guarding Morant, along with Neto and a few other guards, and holding him to a season-low 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting.

“Not giving him much space,” Caldwell-Pope said about the key when defending Morant. “That’s where he’s good at — in space and attacking downhill. We tried to pressure him as much as possible.”

The Wizards continued their success on Morant early in the third quarter, as Gafford, Washington’s starting center, had two blocks against the bouncy guard. 

The Grizzlies went on a 7-1 run early in the third to trail nine points, but the Wizards responded with a 21-4 run of their own to lead 91-68 at the end of the quarter. The final 12 points of the run were scored by bench players — Harrell, Neto and Aaron Holiday. Harrell had a quiet first half but made his presence felt in the third quarter with eight points and two thunderous dunks. 

Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointer four minutes into the fourth quarter gave him 12 points, making him the seventh Wizard to score in double figures on the night. Caldwell-Pope led the Wizards with four 3s on seven attempts, adding seven boards and three assists. 

Despite Beal not playing the entire fourth quarter, the Wizards outscored the Grizzlies 24-19 in the final 12 minutes to seal the dominant victory.

“We kept our foot on the gas tonight,” Beal said. “I’m definitely proud of how we played on both ends.”

Washington is back in action Sunday against visiting Milwaukee. 

NOTES: The main negative from the win Friday was the 19 turnovers the Wizards committed, five of which from Beal. About the turnovers, Unseld said: “It wasn’t perfect, but a lot of those turnovers were guys trying to make a play for the team. They weren’t selfish turnovers. I can live with those.” … Washington outrebounded Memphis, which entered the game on a two-game winning streak, 53-38. … The Wizards scored 66 of their 115 points in the paint. … Unseld gave a shoutout to coach Mike Williams, who won his first game as coach of Washington’s G League team, the Go-Go, on Friday. The Go-Go came back from down 19-0 to beat the Knicks. 

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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