Legendary rock musician Jon Bon Jovi sat courtside during the Wizards’ 104-101 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Center. The arena speakers pumped his classic staple, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” while his image flashed across the HD scoreboard. And as it all unfolded, John Wall applauded from his seat along the bench.
Wall was simply being polite, because after the game, Wall was asked about Bon Jovi and he replied, “Who’s that?”
Jan Vesely, the Czech forward getting dressed nearby, was stunned as he looked at Wall.
“No. You don’t know him?” Vesely said.
Emeka Okafor, seated in an adjacent locker room stall, shook his head and laughed.
Wall smiled and said, “I’m a 90s baby. I never heard of him.”
Wall might be unfamiliar with Bon Jovi’s music, but some of the rocker’s tunes were probably appropriate on a night when the Wizards built an early lead before failing to go down in a blaze of glory — while at the same time giving late-game execution a bad name. Since the final result is irrelevant, the Wizards were able to come away with plenty with which to be encouraged.
Trevor Booker made his debut and reminded the Wizards of the energy jolt that they’ve been missing. Okafor spent the first half schooling Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas. Vesely bounced back from a miserable outing in Brooklyn. A.J. Price ran the team well and provided a solid defensive effort on Kyle Lowry. And, even though he had his first preseason clunker, Bradley Beal learned a few valuable lessons.
“As I try to tell our guys, ‘We’re just little things away from being right there.’ Every game we’re there,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Little things can add up. When you’re in a tight game, if you had taken care of those little things, you’d be in a position where they are trying to catch you.”
Booker was certainly excited about getting back after missing almost two weeks with a hamstring injury. He contributed eight of his team-high 12 points in his first four minutes on the court, quickly helping the Wizards go from being down 11-8 to leading 20-13 after Martell Webster made a fastbreak layup.
“That’s the old Book that we know. All over the floor, getting in passing lanes. I thought he jump-started our guys,” said Wittman, who wanted to limit Booker to just 15 minutes but wound up playing him 16.
Booker attacked the basket for layups and jump hooks, grabbed two rebounds, forced two steals. He made a layup after a nifty spin move and screamed as he ran down the court.
“I’m a passionate player. If I do something I need to get hype over, I’m going to get hype,” Booker said. “I think I was so energetic because I was so ready to get back.”
Okafor played well in his second game as a Wizard, though the game didn’t get off to the best start for him. Valanciunas caught the ball out on the wing, froze Okafor with a dribble-juke move, then drove around him for a slam.
Okafor spent the rest of his time on the floor intent on abusing the rookie by backing him down for jump hooks or forcing him into foul trouble. He had 11 points and five rebounds in just three quarters of work.
“Just trying to get back my flow, man,” Okafor said. “It’s building.”
Price and Crawford were inserted back into the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the previous two games. Crawford had a poor shooting night (nine points on 4 of 14 field goal attempts) but came out looking to share as he found Okafor cutting to the basket for an early dunk. He handed out six of his seven assists in the first quarter.
The starting five didn’t experience the same struggles they’ve encountered recently, posting a preseason-high 34 points in the first quarter. Price had his best game of the preseason with eight points and eight assists. He also knocked down two third-quarter three-pointers to give the Wizards a short-lived lead.
“I’m getting more comfortable, as each game goes by,” Price said. “That’s why each game is important right now. We’re not being looked over by any stretch of the imagination. Taking them serious, because we need every possession, every quarter, to gain some continuity.”
Price and Shelvin Mack did their part to help Vesely get more involved offensively, as both players fed the 7-foot forward for alley-oop lobs. Mack tossed the ball a tad high on one lob, but Vesely was still able to gain control and slam it with two hands.
“I talked to A.J. and Shelvin and they just told me, they will find me on those spots,” Vesely said. “I try to go there and be aggressive and finish. I’m happy that they try to look for this and I will keep doing this.”
Vesely finished with 11 points, responding to Wittman’s demands for more production than he gave the team in Brooklyn.
“I wish I had that kind of magic,” Wittman said, when asked about his pep talk.
Beal needed a pair of free throws in the final minute to continue his streak of consecutive games with double-digit scoring. He finished with 11 points but he was living on a prayer on the last possession. A broken play resulted in him having his potential game-tying three-pointer blocked by former Wizard Dominic McGuire with six seconds left.
“That play got broke up from the beginning,” Beal said. “That was kind of a scramble, trying to get a shot up. My shot got blocked.”
After the game, Vesely tried his best to tell Wall about Bon Jovi. When Vesely told Wall that he owns a Bon Jovi CD, Wall said, “Oh, he makes music? I didn’t know.”
Okafor turned 30 a few weeks ago and sort of understood how the 22-year-old Wall had never of the New Jersey rocker.
“I think after a certain age limit …like even for me, I just know from watching on TV or hearing things, but the young guys,” Okafor said, before stopping himself. “He’s an icon, though.”