John Wall was having a heck of a time contending with Russell Westbrook, his Oklahoma City counterpart who was getting to the rim for layups, swishing jumpers and finding open teammates for easy points.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Westbrook was well in front of Wall in points, had more assists and made three more appearances at the free throw line. Most important, the Thunder, which entered with the NBA’s best record, had a four-point lead and appeared ready to close out the league’s worst team record-wise.
But Wall took over in the fourth quarter to finish with a team-high 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds to spark a 105-102 victory on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. He also made 13 of 14 foul shots, including 7 of 8 in the final period.
Westbrook did have a game-high 36 points, but he shot 4 for 9 in the fourth quarter and did not attempt a free throw. He also wound up with fewer assists (seven) and rebounds (five) while committing three turnovers, the same number as Wall.
“First I got early fouls, so it was tough to guard him posting up,” Wall said of Westbrook. “He’s a physical guy and I wasn’t resisting him at all. He was basically making tough floaters. In the second half I just knew where he wanted to go, and I tried to take charges to slow him down.”
Wall’s defensive attention certainly contributed to the second-year player holding his own against one of the league’s most polished point guards. Westbrook has been particularly merciless when facing Wall and the Wizards, having scored 89 points in three games with 32 assists and 22 rebounds.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wall had the highlight reel play of the season so far for the Wizards, elevating to catch a lob pass from Jordan Crawford and slamming the ball to tie the game at 76. Roughly three and a half minutes later, Wall delivered a pass through congestion to center JaVale McGee, who dunked authoritatively to put the Wizards ahead, 88-85, with 6:43 to play.
With 5:19 left, Wall drew a charge on Kevin Durant, who finished with 33 points and eight rebounds but committed seven turnovers. Nick Young and Trevor Booker both also drew charges in the fourth quarter on the NBA’s reigning scoring champion.
In the Thunder locker room following the game, Westbrook was asked about Wall’s performance. Clearly unimpressed, Westbrook dismissed the question and moved on to another topic.
Wall has scored 63 points over the past two games with 15 assists and five turnovers. That’s by far the best Wall has played in consecutive games this season, and the recent upswing may be an indication the No. 1 pick from two years ago is emerging from an early season swoon.
“I thought a couple games ago the second half he was getting back to where he was,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “I thought he did a nice job in our last game and followed it up. I mean Westbrook had a big game, but John did too.
“What John did is he ran the team. He filled the box [score] up with rebounds, assists and points. He stepped in and took a lot of charges, and that’s huge. He sacrificed his body to do what we needed to do to win.”