MVP chants broke out during the Wizards‘ upset victory over the Celtics, drowning out the thousands of Boston fans that, at times, made the Capital One Arena feel like the TD Garden. Ish Smith, who had 59 points off the bench over his past two games, had again taken control of the contest.
“If it were a two-game season, I would have to agree with the crowd: MVP,” coach Scott Brooks said to the media in attendance, including Hoops Rumors. “And he’s bringing back the mid-range. He plays. Man, that guy, he’s hard to stay in front of. He changes direction, his pace, speed, it’s hard—it’s hard to stay in front of him.”
Smith, who signed a two-year, $12MM contract with the Wizards this past offseason, attributes many parts of his game to NBA legend Steve Nash.
“You know what’s funny, I was watching some tape of [Nash] last night,” the point guard said after the team’s win over the Celtics. “I’m always trying to get better. The game of basketball, I love to play the game and Steve did such a great job, as you know, and we know watching him. Probing, keeping his dribble, he was unbelievable in the mid-range game. I sometimes thought he didn’t shoot enough. I used to watch tons of him.
“The late, great Skip Prosser, my coach, he passed away. He used to sit me down my freshman year and show me tons of Tony Parker and Steve Nash clips. When you watch me play, you see a lot of that. Coaches used to tell me [to keep my dribble]. I’m glad I’m continuing that on and I’m still trying to learn from him, just watching his tapes. I watched the playoffs when he played against Dallas and he had 39 and he just kept making shots and they went to the conference finals. I’m constantly learning and getting better.”
Smith’s has elevated his game at a time when his team needed him the most, as Washington has been decimated by injuries this season. No one expected John Wall to come back, but the list of players sidelined is getting ridiculous. C.J. Miles has been out since November. Thomas Bryant hasn’t played in over a month. Davis Bertans, Moritz Wagner, and Rui Hachimura all remain out with three very different injuries.
NBA Ironman Bradley Beal has missed the past three games and five out of the past six, including the Wizards’ pair of upset victories over the Nuggets and Celtics. Garrison Mathews, who was turning into a key contributor for the team, went down during the first half of the Boston game. The team had to utilize a pair of hardship exceptions in recent weeks on Gary Payton II and Johnathan Williams, starting both in a handful of contests before being forced to trim down the roster again. Charles Barkley could play ‘Who he play for’ Wizards edition and go 0-for-6.
Despite the various ailments, Brooks has opted to stack the bench unit, led by Smith, and the strategy has paid dividends. The Wizards scored 92 points off the bench against the Nuggets, causing coach Mike Malone to give a brash rant, telling reporters that he was “embarrassed” for his squad.
“The reality is this is the NBA, man, I don’t care who plays,” Malone said. “They’re professional players, all their players are playing for something. They don’t get an opportunity to play a lot now they have an opportunity. They are grabbing it. So, you know, kudos to them. That’s what you want to see.”
After the Wizards’ win on Saturday, the locker room had a champagne-like celebration (it was all water). After the win over the Celtics, it was all praise to Smith, who has led this ever-changing group, mentoring the younger players and playing the role of both scorer and facilitator on the floor.
“There’s certain stuff he does where I’m like, ‘I can’t do that.’ Just the pace he plays at and how calm he stays, how collected he is and his composure,” Troy Brown Jr. said of Smith. “He’s definitely a great player and somebody definitely to look up to that’s been in the league for a long time.”
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.