Wizards

Kuzma, Wizards Chuck Record Number of 3s to Close 2023

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The Washington Wizards lost to the Atlanta Hawks on New Year’s Eve, but they made sure to go home with something.

They shot 17-for-53 from behind the three-point line, catapulting more threes as a team than they ever had before in a single game, led by their heroic leader in Kyle Kuzma who hoisted 18 all by himself.

It’s a pretty incredible mark to hit in regulation, setting several new records with ease. He powered past a few familiar faces in the 15-three-point-attempt club such as Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and, inexplicably, Johnny Davis, setting the bar in merely 34 minutes.

That final total of 18 is tied for the most any player has fired in a game this season, drawing even with Bogdan Bogdanovic and Derrick White at the summit. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Trae Young and Luka Doncic, four guys more than willing to test their hot hands, each fell short of that high before 2023 came to a close.

The Wizards forward canned seven of those bombs for 38.8% from behind the arc, surpassing his season average of 35.7%. He was efficient according to the box score, yet he took 31 shots in another Wizards loss. Was he taking what the defense gave him or just seeing green?

Taking Advantage of the Defense

Kuzma wasted little time in assuring Wizards fans of his confidence, finishing the first quarter with seven attempts from deep.

The numerous Atlanta defenders who took a turn on Kuzma never seemed ready for his potential to fire over them, something he, at 6-foot-9, is more than willing to punish a defender for. Dejounte Murray repeatedly lost track of his man, and a late contest without a hand in the air was all the invitation he needed to get himself going early.

The Hawks own the fourth-worst defensive rating in the league, allowing 119.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s about two fewer than the dreadful Washington defense, and it showed. They let Kuzma stroll into four long makes in that first period, simply allowing him too much space after he’d made it clear his intention to fire at will.

That summarized the tone of the first quarter, with the Wizards offense simply outworking the Hawks in transition and in the halfcourt. A run from Atlanta late in the first quarter helped it cut the lead to 30-28 entering the period break, but Kuzma had plenty more left in the tank.

He released four more threes before halftime, continuing to expose Atlanta’s lack of a defender to glue to Kuzma. He only made one of those tries, but he fittingly cashed in when Trae Young failed to anticipate the pass and rotate in time. 

Even if he’d been there waiting for Kuz to catch and fire, the eight-inch height difference likely wouldn’t have bothered him with the way he was looking at the rim.

But it was in this portion of the game when he started searching for his shots even more. The misses that sandwiched the quarter included a long pull-up three down the barrel of the key over Clint Capela in isolation, as well as another shot from 28 feet out when he attempted a 2-for-1.

He was getting his, finishing with 5-for-11 from downtown for 20 points entering the half, but the Wiz faced a 70-58 discrepancy. Kuzma, boasting a team-high 16:59 minutes and having shot 16 times, more than twice as much as the next-closest teammate, was handed with a -8.

Taking Matters into his Own Hands

Kuz, once on pace to fire 20 threes on the afternoon, slowed his production down in the second half, at least by his standards. He only got seven off over the remaining game time, including a third quarter that saw him attempt merely three long balls.

The defense was adjusting, with Jalen Johnson sure to chase Kuzma with a raised hand, but the scorer remained unfazed. He missed this one, but the unwavering self-confidence in his release remained clear.

He came right back, though, shaking the defensively-stable Johnson with the help of a Daniel Gafford screen and a lefty in-and-out cross to earn some space. In went his sixth three of the game.

Kuzma entered the fourth still ready to release, starting the quarter off with another defensive fumble from Atlanta. Bogdanovic gambled on a pass and left the forward alone on the wing, where he managed to convert on a banked-in prayer. He maintained his score-first mentality, but arguing with these sorts of results is difficult.

Although that was the last three he made, Kuzma thought he had more left in the chamber. 

A three-point try out of the pick-and-roll found only the front rim, and a step-back shot seconds later met the same fate. His 18th and final hoist and his third in the clutch with the team down 125-118 in the final minute couldn’t find the bottom of the net, sending the Wizards plunging back into the loss column.

Kuzma finished with 38 points, but only two assists. He hunted for his own shots first and foremost, but is he the fall guy here? Despite the franchise-high in three-point attempts, non-Kuz Wizards totaled only 10 shots from behind the arc. He gave his team a chance by his own methods, but the team couldn’t punish those defensively-messy Hawks on his big night. 

They tried their best in the comeback attempt, and so did he. In a rebuilding year, fans can’t ask for much more.

About Henry J. Brown

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