By BILLY HEYEN
The biggest questions asked of Thomas Bryant each and every night on an NBA court have to do with defense. Is he laterally quick enough? Can he defend the pick-and-roll well enough? Will he provide rim protection?
Faced off with one of the best pick-and-roll guard tandems in basketball Wednesday, the Rockets’ James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Bryant had one of his biggest professional tests yet. In a game where defense at times seemed optional, it was defensive plays from Bryant that stood out in one of the most well-rounded games of his NBA career.
Bryant filled the highlight reel with blocks and finishing at the rim as Washington fell in a heartbreaker to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, 159-158. The Rochester native tallied his third double-double in four games to start the season. That statline consisted of 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and a career-high four blocks.
Bryant’s first contribution came with a steal and a tough, right-handed rebound down on offense, but Bradley Beal couldn’t knock down the 3-pointer off Bryant’s kick-out pass. About three minutes in, Bryant got on the score sheet with a swished pick-and-pop jumper from 15 feet away on the right baseline.
A strong left-handed dribble drive got Bryant to the line on a blocking call less than a minute later. He drained the first before front-rimming the second.
Midway through the first quarter, Houston’s Danuel House drove, leapt and cocked the ball back in his right hand. Bryant rose up with House, met the ball with his right hand and sent it away.
The Beal-to-Bryant connection that’s been so effective this season got the big fella free for a righty bucket inside after he’d returned from the bench in the second quarter.
Bryant tallied his second block shortly after, as Clint Capela attempted a righty hook in the lane and Bryant swatted it away with his right hand. As the ball landed in a teammate’s arms, Bryant pounded his chest with that same right hand.
Late in the first half, Bryant outran Harden up the floor and received a pass from Ish Smith before finishing an and-one off glass. He converted the three-point play with a swished free throw.
Then, Bryant outran Harden up the floor and received a pass from Ish Smith before finishing an and-one off glass. He converted the three-point play with a swished free throw.
The Wizards took a lead into the halftime break thanks to one more great play from Bryant. Inbounding from 94 feet away with 3.3 seconds on the clock, Washington threw the ball in to Bryant flashing back to the ball near halfcourt. He caught, turned and fired a two-handed pass to Beal streaking up the left sideline, and the guard finished a righty layup to go to the break with a lead on the star-studded Rockets.
Early in the second half, Bryant appeared to get a piece of a Clint Capela missed shot inside, although no block was credited. Bryant assisted on a backcut bucket for Isaac Bonga a few possessions later (minutes later, the same play connected on another hoop from Bryant to Bonga).
The next play wouldn’t leave scorekeeping doubt: Harden drove right, Bryant slid over from the help side and the Wizards’ center slapped the ball off the glass.
By the end of the third quarter, Washington led 117-111. Bryant returned with 8:04 to go in the fourth and the score 131-120 in the Wizards’ favor. Immediately, Bryant made a layup off a dish from Beal.
As a roller, Bryant had a graceful assist to Rui Hachimura with about five minutes to go. One possession later, Bryant spun against a smaller Austin Rivers and finished off glass and through contact before flexing to the Washington crowd. Again, he completed the three-point play.
The Rockets worked their way back, though. Harden was relentless all night and wound up with 59 points, including the game-winning free throw after a questionable foul call with 2.4 seconds left. The Wizards didn’t get a shot off after Harden missed his second attempt at the line.
The Wizards are back in action Saturday at home against Minnesota, where Bryant will match up with one of the NBA’s best young centers, Karl-Anthony Towns.
Other NBA games scores from Wednesday night:
New York 83