WASHINGTON -- The Wizards may have been missing their top-two scorers on Wednesday night against the Bulls, but they were in good hands when they needed a basket on their final possession. Tied at 97-97 with 22.5 seconds to go, Kyle Kuzma once again delivered in the clutch with a go-ahead three-point shot, sending the Wizards to a win that snapped a three-game losing streak.
Kuzma has shown a flair for the dramatic in his one-and-a-half seasons in Washington. Last year, he memorably beat the Pistons with a buzzer-beater and also the Cavs with a barrage of clutch fourth-quarter threes. This year, he forced overtime with a three against the Heat on Nov. 18 and now Wednesday's triple can be added to the list.
"We've seen him make those types of plays in his short tenure here," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. "We're going to put the ball in his hands in these types of situations.
This one was a running leaner from 28 feet out over his former Lakers teammate Alex Caruso's outstretched arm. Kuzma found daylight after taking off around a Taj Gibson screen with about 10 seconds remaining. Caruso nearly recovered, but Kuzma released it just in time.
"I threw the ball to an open spot on the floor, just rose up and shot it and it went in," Kuzma said.
Kuzma had 17 seconds on the shot clock to work with when he caught the inbound pass near halfcourt. His first option was to drive, but Caruso's defensive ability and the expectation he would be forced left convinced Kuzma to wait for the Gibson screen. That allowed Kuzma to go right and seek open space on the wing.
That he made the shot did not surprise those on the Wizards, who have both seen him make those plays before and understand he has the right mindset for those moments. Monte Morris has known Kuzma since they were in elementary school and believes there is something intangible about him that lends itself to late-game situations.
"That's normal. Kuz loves shots like that, he loves the moment. He's a big-time player," Morris said, later adding:
"I think that's his biggest attribute. Me being his best friend, just knowing him, you can't just wake up and have that confident aura about you. It's easy when you're good and everything is going well, but he's the same guy. I respect that."
It seems worth noting Kuzma, who had 21 points for the night, made that shot after shaking off one of his most frustrating games of the season the game before on Monday night. In a loss to the Pelicans, Kuzma fouled out and received a rare technical foul.
After fouling out, he ran to the locker room with nine minutes left in the game. That apparently did not sit very well with Unseld Jr. Assistant coaches Marcin Gortat and James Posey trailed Kuzma to the locker room to calm him down and afterwards Unseld Jr. talked with his veteran forward about why he should have stayed on the bench.
Despite all of that, Kuzma said there was no lingering angst from Monday's blowout loss and how it ended for him.
"After games, I never really dwell on things. I got home, had a beer and just chilled out," he said.
Kuzma effectively put the Pelicans loss behind him by lifting the Wizards to a win in a game they were missing three starters including Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. They needed someone to make a play and he delivered.