TORONTO – Before the game had evolved into a triple-overtime classic, filled with emotional swings and ragged, limping players, John Wall had already signaled the importance of beating the Toronto Raptors when he put his own body in danger late in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 134-129 victory Thursday night.
With the Wizards leading by eight points, Wall sprinted to the sideline to collect the carom off a miss by Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez. Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas actually slapped the ball, so Wall could’ve easily watched it go out of bounds. Instead, Wall hurdled people in the front row to track down the ball, crash landed into the second row and turned around to watch his save attempt end up in the hands of the Raptors guard Kyle Lowry.
“I was cool,” Wall said. “Nobody caught me but I had kept my balance to not get my feet up and not get them caught in a chair.”
The frightening sequence was one of many that showed Wall’s determination to avoid a regular season sweep against a Raptors team that had won the first three meetings by a combined 31 points. Indiana remains the only Eastern Conference team that the Wizards have been unable to defeat this season. They will only get one more shot against the Pacers on March 28 at Verizon Center.
After he dived into the stands, Wall chased down Vasquez for what he thought was a clean block before the officials called him for goaltending near the end of the regulation. Then came his inside-out dribble to get around DeMar DeRozan for a driving layup with 23.3 seconds left in overtime, followed up by an emphatic block on Lowry.
And finally, he stole two errant passes from Vasquez to set up a Trevor Ariza dunk and a Martell Webster layup, and secured the win with a wicked drive around Tyler Hansbrough for another layup. Wall was physically on empty but feeling full from the much-needed win to keep the Wizards’ season-high winning streak going at five games.
“Just happy to finally get a win. You never know, this might be our first-round playoff match,” Wall said after scoring 31 points with nine assists. “We’re both teams that’s on a roll.”
And Wall doesn’t want to see this roll stop for the Wizards, especially because the loss of Nene has yet to slow them down. The Wizards (30-28) are two games behind the Raptors (32-26) for third in the East but have just a two-game lead on sixth-place Brooklyn. Seventh-place Charlotte is only 2½ games behind.
Washington will take on the Philadelphia on Saturday, when the 76ers will retire Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey on what will surely be an emotional night for the former Georgetown star.
The 76ers are on a 12-game losing streak and have all-but gutted their roster since the Wizards defeated them, 107-99, on January 20. Philadelphia traded starters Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes and bought out Danny Granger, leaving the team with rookie of the year candidate, Michael Carter-Williams, and the lone holdover from its last playoff team, Thaddeus Young.
“The main thing is, we can’t go to Philly and lose that game,” Wall said. “This is a statement game and big game for us to win [in Toronto]. You can’t go there and lose that game. You got to respect those guys, even though they traded a lot of guys and their team is totally different, they’re still professional team with talented guys.”
But the significance of the win over the Raptors wasn’t lost on Wall, who won 23 games as a rookie, 20 games in his second year and 29 last season (after missing the first 33 with a stress injury in his left knee). The Wizards just completed their second winning month of the season, going 8-5, and haven’t been two games over .500 in February since 2007.
Wall has elevated his game since the all-star break, averaging 22 points and 9.3 assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor (52 of 104) and 40 percent from beyond the three-point line (10 of 25). With his latest exploits in Toronto, Wall now has six 30-point games this season. It was also the first time in 10 games this season in which Wall shot at least 20 times and the Wizards won. They certainly wouldn’t have defeated the Raptors without him being aggressive on both ends of the floor.
“It builds confidence, showing us the heart we have and not giving up,” Wall said. “What we had 29 last year? that’s another step we’re taking, I think we’re breaking a lot of things this year. what our ultimate goal is this year we’re a playoff team. That’s what we’re striving to. Like I said, it’s time for us to get on a winning streak and we’re on one right now.”
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