John Wall shows Wizards ‘are tough to beat’ when he’s engaged on both ends

March 16, 2014
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 15: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards celebrates after scoring a basket during the first half against the Brooklyn Nets at Verizon Center on March 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) You see me coming? (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

John Wall’s emergence as a star reached a new level on Saturday night while leading the Wizards to a 101-94 win over the Brooklyn Nets – and it wasn’t strictly because he scored a game-high 33 points one night after willing his team to a grueling overtime win in Orlando, went 4 for 6 from three-point range for the second night in a row, or held Nets point guard Deron Williams without a field goal in the final three quarters.

No, the true leap for Wall was in the relative lack of hoopla that followed. Wall delivered an incredible performance on both ends of the floor but Coach Randy Wittman didn’t get one question about his all-star point guard after the game. He has eight 30-point games this season, but are these virtuoso efforts starting to become so routine that they aren’t a big deal anymore?

After answering a series of questions about Bradley Beal playing despite a sprained right ankle and how his 30-something trio of Drew Gooden, Al Harrington and Andre Miller inspired a fourth-quarter rally, Wittman ended his postgame interview by acknowledging Wall’s contributions to the victory.

“John, sometimes, I think we lose sight of some of the things John does and I would be remiss to not mention the game that he had,” Wittman said, unprompted. “The aggression that he played in that fourth quarter, really ignited us. I thought he played both ends of the floor as hard as he could.”

Wall’s night didn’t get started off very well, with Williams coming around screens to hit three-pointers, driving to the basket and scoring 10 points to give his team an early double-digit lead. In the first two meetings against Williams, Wall put the clamps on the former all-star point guard, limiting him to 10-of-27 shooting. Williams didn’t want to be upstaged once again, but Wall kept him quiet the rest of the game.

“Yeah, I was really upset,” Wall said of letting Williams get loose early. “I just tried to make it tough on him in the second half and not give him too many clean looks like he had in the first.”

The message was actually sent right before halftime when Williams tried to quickly get to the rim for a dunk but Wall tracked him down to deflect the ball, leading to Williams getting stuck on the rim and falling on his backside. Williams finished 4 for 14 from the field on Saturday.

“I just try to be a leader,” Wall said. “My coaches tell me I can be a great defender when I give it 48 minutes and that’s something I’m trying to do down this stretch of being committed on the defensive end and playing on both sides of the ball and helping my team out as much as possible I know these guys feed off the energy that I bring every night. Sometimes I don’t bring it and that’s not what they accept from their leader.”

That defensive stop near the end of the first half seemed to get Wall going in the third quarter when he hit three three-pointers and scored 15 points. Wall has been on a tear from long distance in the past four games, going 13 of 21 from three-point range and hitting at least three in the past three games. Remember, Wall hit three three-pointers his second year in the NBA.

“John Wall has matured as a player, obviously, becoming an all-star this year, taking on more responsibility, becoming a leader for that ball club,” Nets forward Paul Pierce said. “That is what the Washington Wizards have been waiting for and you are seeing it.”

Wall was the only member of the starting unit that didn’t appear physically spent after a 105-101 victory over the Magic on Friday in which all five starters also logged at least 40 minutes and accounted for 88 percent of the points, 87 percent of the rebounds and 92 percent of the assists. In 41 minutes that started off sluggishly, Wall forced the extra frame by scoring the team’s final eight points, tracked down the rebound of Beal’s blocked shot on Jameer Nelson, found Trevor Ariza for the subsequent go-ahead three-pointer and put the game away with a pull-up jumper.

With the Wizards in a fight with Brooklyn for playoff positioning, Wall continually summoned the energy to keep his team hanging around, until the old veterans got it close. Then, Wall closed. “It was a big game for us,” Al Harrington said. “It was an overtime game and we could’ve came in here and said we’re tired, Brad with his injuries he was playing with, but everybody sucked it up and played like it was their last, brought their energy and intensity and got a good win.”

Wall encountered a rough offensive patch this month, totaling 16 points on 6 of 22 shooting in two games against Milwaukee and Miami, but he has averaged 25.7 points over his past three games against Charlotte, Orlando and Brooklyn.

“When he plays like this, they are tough to beat,” Williams said.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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