Considering the stakes, the stage and the stats, John Wall probably has never had a bigger or better second-half performance than the one he uncorked in the Wizards’ 103-100 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday at Staples Center.
As the driving force behind the Wizards’ rally from a 16-point halftime deficit, Wall used his speed, decision-making and a never-die mentality to overwhelm the Lakers and their star-studded crowd. The third-year point guard had 18 points, 11 assists, four rebounds, a steal and — get this — zero turnovers in the second half while playing all 24 minutes as the Wizards outscored the Lakers, 62-43.
“He’s playing at a high level,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I don’t know if anybody is playing at as high a level as John is.”
On a floor that featured four potential future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, Wall stood out as the best player; a force that couldn’t be contained as he finished with 24 points, 16 assists, six rebounds and three steals.
Only five players have had games with at least 20 points and 15 assists this season, and LeBron James is the only other player to also finish with at least five rebounds. Wall is the only player to reach all of those statistical benchmarks in a game this season.
“I just got a lot of confidence lately,” said Wall, who got his first win in Staples Center after losing on four previous visits against the Clippers and Lakers. “I got a lot of confidence in my game and my jump shot and I made tough on them because Steve Nash had to go over the top and I was able to find my shooters and the big man. This is the way I’ve got to play. I’m feeling confident and this is all my work in the summer paying off. I give a lot of [credit] to my teammates for believing in me, letting me run the show and helping my team out.”
Wall’s dominance of Nash was on display during one sequence in the second when he used a crossover dribble, dropped him to the floor, then buried a jumper over him before running back on defense with his tongue wagging.
In complete control as he scored or assisted on 47 of the Wizards’ 62 points in the final two quarters, Wall flaunted his success late in the game when he rebounded a Bryant miss, got fouled and angrily placed the ball under his basket as he glared into the stands. Wall was responsible for 26 of 31 points in the fourth period, when Bryant attempted to take over the game but faded.
With the Wizards’ back court again shorthanded with shooting guard Bradley Beal (left ankle) and his backup A.J. Price (sore groin) out, Wall had to log a season-high 44 minutes and still had enough legs to go 6 for 6 from the foul line, with four coming in the final five seconds.
Wittman said the Wizards didn’t really change their game plan much from the first half, but the team just played better defense after allowing the Lakers to shoot 53.7 percent and score 57 points by halftime.
“It was hard to play at the pace we wanted when we were taking the ball out of the net,” Wittman said.
Wittman did decide to mostly go small with three shooters surrounding Wall and Nene or Kevin Seraphin. Trevor Ariza scored a game-high 25 points had ample time to make four of his career-high seven three-pointers in the second half because of Wall’s ability to penetrate and force Lakers defenders to pick him, one of the Wizards’ big men or Ariza.
In almost each instance, Wall made the right read.
“He’s just controlling the game,” Wittman said. “He’s getting the ball up the floor, getting it inside quickly before the defense can get set. He’s attacking the gaps before the team can get set, and he’s playing with high confidence. He’s making his shot and taking it with confidence.”
The reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, Wall is maintaining his quality production – aside from a late-game letdown in Charlotte – and is averaging 22.7 points, 9.7 assists and four rebounds through the first three games of this road trip. He continues to impress in March, posting averages of 20.3 points, 8.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds.
“My confidence is probably the highest since I was 14, playing AAU,” Wall said. “I think I’m growing before my eyes and maturing in running the show.”