John Wall deflected Russell Westbrook’s alley-oop lob pass for Kevin Durant, Emeka Okafor recovered the ball and threw it out ahead to Wall near halfcourt. A one-man fastbreak, Wall usually doesn’t have to worry about anyone staying with him when he lowers his head and gets out in the open floor. But on Wednesday night, Westbrook was with Wall every step of the way and even got out in front of him to contest one of the rare shots Wall got to fall.
“I seen him coming,” Wall said of Westbrook, “and I seen Serge [Ibaka] and that’s why I was trying to get out of the way as quick as possible.”
When it comes to athleticism and speed, Wall has few peers. But he certainly has a role model in how to use those gifts in Westbrook, a two-time all-star who improved to 3-1 in head-to-head matchups against Wall after the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Wizards, 103-80, at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I think we are both young, athletic, fast point guards,” Wall said. “That’s very rare that you see that in this league. I’m trying to take the same steps that he took to become an all-star. I give a lot of credit to how he is working and how is helping his team win.”
Wall sought out Westbrook’s long-time trainer, Rob McClanaghan, after seeing Westbrook elevate his game in each of his first four seasons. Much like the game, the Westbrook-Wall individual matchup was a bit of dud, with Westbrook picking up two early fouls, Wall following up his 47-point effort against Memphis with his second-worst shooting performance of the season, and neither player providing much in terms of highlight reel plays.
Westbrook finished with 21 points, going 10 for 11 from the foul line, in just 25 minutes. Wall had 18 points on 3 of 18 shooting, while making 12 of 15 free throw attempts, and added a game-high 12 assists despite his team playing with just eight healthy bodies. Both were turned spectators for the final five minutes, with the Thunder suffocating the Wizards and pulling away.
“We didn’t guard each other too much,” Wall said, but “it is a great matchup when you go up against another great point guard. It makes you better and you try to make him better at the same time. You don’t back down. You compete. We are friends off the court, but on the court, we are not friends at all. We compete and try to make each other better.”
Westbrook has a considerable edge over Wall in experience, all-star appearances and postseason success, but Wall still believes he has one advantage. After the game, Wall was asked if Westbrook was the fastest player in the league and replied, “No, I’m going to say myself.”
Wall then flashed a playful grin and refused to bite when asked if Westbrook was at least the second-fastest player in the league. “It’s tough man,” Wall said. “There’s a couple fast guys in this league. He’s up there, Derrick [Rose] is up there, when he’s healthy. Mike Conley’s pretty quick. It’s different guys. Ty Lawson’s quick. So there’s a lot of guys, but I put myself first. Just for fun.”
Coach Randy Wittman marveled at how much the game has evolved with such big, dynamic and athletic point guards. “Seems to be changing these days. Size, quickness, ability to score. You see more of that than the prototype point guard of yesteryear,” Wittman said. “The athlete today, they just get more athletic, bigger, and it’s kind of a scary thing where each of these positions are headed. You stay around this game long enough, you kind of see it evolve. I’m sure it’ll someday go back to the old way. I don’t know if we’ll ever have the old shorts.”