John Wall made a beautiful pass to Nene for the game-winning layup with half a second remaining in the Wizards’ 86-84 victory on Saturday night in Miami. But that decisive sequence – and even a similar play 45 seconds earlier – was the result of more than just Wall’s vision or Nene’s hands and dexterity.
Credit a lesson learned. The real reason the Wizards were able to escape Miami with a win over the Heat’s skeleton crew is because of a loss in Indiana on March 29, when the team was in a similar position, attempting to tie in the final 30 seconds.
Wall and Nene worked a high pick-and-roll, Wall drove left and hesitated when he saw Pacers center Roy Hibbert approaching. Though Nene was open, Wall threw the ball back to no one in particular, which led to a backcourt violation. After that loss, Coach Randy Wittman pulled Wall aside and showed him video of the sequence, explaining that he simply needed calm down and slip the pass to a cutting Nene.
Nene injured his left foot the next night against Philadelphia, missed the next 10 games and returned on Wednesday, so there hadn’t been another opportunity to go back to the play until Saturday in Miami.
Wall made the right call against the Heat, with Joel Anthony and Norris Cole chasing him and Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem surrounding Nene. “I wanted to turn the corner and make the play without throwing it away toward their basket or getting a charge,” Wall said after the game. “Nene just cut right behind. He’s just a big man who knows where to be. He knows the spots. He just makes it easier for you.”
When the Wizards fell behind, 70-66, with 9 minutes 55 seconds remaining, Wall took over the game strictly with his passing, as he assisted on his team’s final nine field goals, accounting for 20 points. He started by feeding Nene for layups on consecutive possessions, finding James Singleton for a fastbreak dunk and then Maurice Evans for a three-pointer that put them ahead by five points.
He later found Cartier Martin for a three-pointer, Kevin Seraphin for a jump hook and Martin for a driving dunk that put the Wizards ahead 82-80. After Heat forward Shane Battier made two free throws to tie the game, Wall drove, got the defense to collapse and found Nene for a dunk.
“I knew when I took two or three dribbles down the paint, they were coming and I just had to find my teammates. That’s what I did,” said Wall, who also finished with six rebounds and four steals.
Wall and Nene made sure the Wizards got the win, with a play that foundered in Indiana, but worked to perfection in Miami. “The last play of the game is part of the process of paying attention and executing out of a timeout, and we couldn’t have done that any better,” Wittman said.
Said Jordan Crawford, “J-Wall made a great pass, Nene finished strong.”