WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some players wore #8 and some wore #24 but they all wore “Bryant” on their backs as the Washington Wizards honored the fallen NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. The former Lakers legend tragically perished in a helicopter accident this past Sunday that claimed his life and the life of all 8 others onboard, including his 13-year old daughter, Gianna. The Wizards also played a tribute video prior to starting lineup announcements that included numerous Wizards players, as well as head coach Scott Brooks, sharing Kobe’s impact on their lives and games, followed by a 24-second moment of silence.
Following the pregame tributes, the Wizards hosted the team that drafted Bryant, the Charlotte Hornets. Granted, he was drafted by its original incarnation that is now the New Orleans Pelicans but the connection was still fitting. After the tributes, the game seemed less meaningful, but the late star would have wanted the players and fans to enjoy the game he loved in his absence, not ignore it, so they played on.
The Wizards got up 7-6 early but then allowed a 16-7 Charlotte run fueled by the trio of Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington to find themselves down 22-14 with 4:19 left in the quarter. Bradley Beal, who found out before tonight’s game that he had been an All-Star snub, then found his own “Mamba Mentality” rattling off 7 straight points before a Thomas Bryant 3-ball capped a 9-2 run and pulled the Wizards back within 3, 26-23. Charlotte recovered, however, and ended the quarter on 7-3 mini-run over the final 2:20 to take a 33-26 lead into the 2nd quarter. Beal finished the quarter with 15 of the Wizards’ 26 points, clearly angry about his All-Star snub.
Thomas Bryant went on his own Mamba streak to start the 2nd quarter, scoring 7 early points to keep the Wizards close. Charlotte took a 44-37 lead prompting a Wizards’ timeout after former Kansas Jayhawk Devonte’ Graham drained a 29-foot three pointer from the wing. Graham who had been silent before that 3 used it spark a 7-2 run, adding a couple of assists, to make it 49-39 midway through the quarter. Beal found his inner Mamba again with another burst of 7 straight points to pull Washington back to within 3, 51-48 with 3:38 left before halftime. In a half marked by runs, the two teams traded baskets rest of the way and at the half it was 60-55. Beal seemed determined to either honor Kobe by taking the team on his back, prove the All-Star voters wrong or both, collecting a game high 25 first half points nearly doubling the next closest player, PJ Washington’s 13.
Isaiah Thomas, who spoke fondly of Kobe in the pregame tribute, found his stroke from three point land early in the 2nd half. His two early treys brought Washington backwash 1, 64-63, in the early minutes of the 3rd quarter. Isaac Bonga drained a three to tie the game at 66-66 after two Rozier free throws but the tie was short lived. Miles Bridges drilled a three of his own from the corner and it was a Hornets lead again, 69-66. After another round of trading buckets, Ian Mahinmi’s dunk brought the Wiz back with 1, 74-73 midway thru the 3rd before Troy Brown Jr’s jumper gave the Wizards the 75-74 lead a minute later. The slimmest of leads was their first since they led 7-6 in the early minutes of the game.The most amazing thing about the lead was that it was achieved with Beal only scoring one point in the quarter, a technical free throw. The lead grew to 4, 78-74, with 3:38 to play in the 3rd after Isaiah Thomas’ nailed his 3rd 3-pointer of the quarter. This one gave him 8 points for the quarter and 18 for the game to that point and forced a Charlotte timeout on the heels of a 23-14 Washington run to start the 2nd half. After the timeout, the Wiz got a stop and Beal scored his first field goal of the half, a 3 pointer that grew the lead to 81-74. Washington was on a 26-14 run overall and Charlotte hadn’t scored since Graham’s floater with 6:50 left in the 3rd gave them a 74-69 lead so they were on a 12-0 run. Graham ended the eventual 13-0 run with a wide open three from the straight on with 1:07 left in the quarter, book ending a 5 minute, 43 second Charlotte scoring drought. After 3 quarters in DC, the Wizards had turned a 60-55 halftime deficit into an 86-79 lead behind a 31-19 3rd quarter.
The run continued in the 4th quarter and Davis Bertans’ 29-footer with 9:46 to play gave the Wizards a 95-82 lead. The long range bomb forced a Charlotte timeout and capped a 40-22 run after halftime. That run included a 26-8 run since the Hornets’ scoring drought that started with 6:50 remaining in the 3rd. The whole Wizards team had found the Mamba Mentality but there was still work to do to finish off Charlotte. Out of the timeout, the Hornets netted a mini 7-2 run to cut the lead to 97-89 when Graham’s 30-footer rattled around, up and back in with 8:15 left. That was as close as it got the rest of the way as the Wizards kept their foot on Charlotte’s throat and cruise to a 121-107 victory, outscoring the Hornets 66-57 un the 2nd half.
Bradley Beal finished with 34, giving him his 5th straight 30+ point game. He also tallied 9 assists and 9 rebounds coming up just short of a triple-double. Again, whether he was honoring Kobe Bryant, trying to show up the All-Star voters or both, he succeeded. Like Scott Brooks said after the win “[Brad’s] an All-Star, he just didn’t get picked.” Beal has been to the free throw line 51 times over the past three games and Brooks credited Beal’s “attacking” the basket and “getting some calls.” He think quipped “Pretty surprised, you get those calls and not even an All-Star.”
After the game, the talk of the locker room wasn’t as much the victory as Beal’s All-Star snub. It has literally been years since Bradley Beal has not addressed the media after I game I covered but tonight his locker sat cleaned out and he was long gone from the room when reporters were allowed back. Isaiah Thomas reiterated Brooks’ statements about Beal saying “even thought they didn’t name him an All-Star, he’s an All-Star.” adding that it’s “so political.” The veteran guard went father than Brooks however, chastising the NBA for not picked Beal. “They pick who they want and that’s just how it’s always gonna be. All-Stars, they always talk about on winning teams but then you pick and chose who you want on a losing team…it’s like pick a side…it’s frustrating” said the former All-Star.
It wasn’t all anger and disappointment at the NBA All-Star comittee thought, as Thomas Bryant, the Wizards’ forward who always “Bryant” on his back reflected on his admiration of Kobe Bryant. The Wizard had met Kobe when he played for the Lakers himself at Bryant’s jersey retirement. “I remember I used to wear his jersey…I used to wear the #8 jersey all the time when I was younger…My dad had to force it off me because it would have syrup stains from eatin’ and all that. I never took it off…Just something about today felt special.” He said reverently “Kobe was…what bigger than a god? That’s what Kobe was.” However, when asked if Beal was snubbed his attitude was different saying “He was…hands down, 100%.” Bryant went on to add “I feel like a lot of people feel that way. I definitely feel that way….It’s just not right.”
The victory improves Washington’s record to 16-31 and drop Charlotte to 16-32. The Wizards leapfrog the Hornets into 11th place in the Eastern Conference and are only 5 games behind Brooklyn for the 8-seed. They next play Saturday night when they host those very Brooklyn Nets at 8pm.
Wizards Honor Kobe Bryant, Channel ‘Mamba Mentality’ in 121-107 Comeback Win Over Hornets was originally published on theteam980.com