ORLANDO – John Wall promises he will eventually unveil the Florida onesie footed pajamas he vowed to wear after losing a wager to his back-court mate, Bradley Beal, last month. Wall couldn’t find a pair online, so he hired someone a few weeks ago to have the orange and blue outfit custom-made, with the plan for him to don it before the postseason.
But after watching Beal make a return to the state where he starred in college for one season and record a game-saving block on Jameer Nelson in the Wizards’ 105-101 overtime victory on Friday over the Orlando Magic, Wall felt a little more urgency.
“I got to wear my onesie now,” Wall said with a laugh. “I got to own up to by bet.”
Wall was appreciative of Beal for gutting out a game in which he played with tightness in his back and eventually had to be carried off the floor by teammates Otto Porter Jr. and Kevin Seraphin after suffering a sprained right ankle. The injury appeared to be much more serious when Beal covered his face and pounded the hardwood in agony after an awkward landing with 42.7 seconds remaining. Beal walked gingerly through the locker room after the game, but later had the ankle taped and left the arena without any glaring complications.
“It feels fine,” Beal said. “I can put pressure on it. I can walk. It rolled all the way over. We’ll see how it feels” on Saturday.
Beal’s big block and the Trevor Ariza three-pointer that followed made Saturday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets (33-30) a little more important because the winner would have sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference with roughly a month left in the regular season.
The Wizards appeared to be headed toward their third consecutive loss when Magic forward Tobias Harris made two free throws to give his team an 85-79 lead with 1:55 remaining in regulation. But that was when Wall finally woke up after a rough game in which he missed eight of his first 11 shots and was so flustered with his play that he picked up a technical foul and spent part of the evening bickering with Marcin Gortat.
“It didn’t look good, but John never quit,” Al Harrington said. “He never stopped believing in himself. He wasn’t shooting the ball that great but he never gave up. That’s showing him turning into a leader and being the all-star that this team needs him to be.”
With a game that the Wizards led by 14 points slipping away, Wall made a three-pointer, coerced Arron Afflalo into fouling him on another three-point attempt and made two of three free throws. Then, after Magic rookie Victor Oladipo missed a runner along the baseline, Wall sprinted up court, jumped in the lane and passed the ball to Ariza. Ariza then swung the ball back to Wall, who was practically dared Wall to shoot by Harris. Wall finally pulled up and landed on his backside after tying the game at 87.
“John couldn’t make a shot, got overly aggressive. I told him, ‘You keep taking the open shot. Believe in yourself.’ And he hits two big threes,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We stayed with it.”
Wall’s mental toughness would be tested once again when he made a dangerous pass to Beal near the top of the key and Nelson picked it off. Thinking he was going to make a layup that put the Magic up three points, Nelson instead had to deal with rejection.
“It was just a hustle play,” Beal said. “One that we definitely needed. My first instinct was to go chase it down. He had a little head start on me and I guess I kind of baited him into it and was able to jump up and get it before it was a goaltend.”
Wall also hustled back from the far left corner to track down the loose ball. “All I’m thinking is get back. That was big momentum changer for us. In the past, I probably wouldn’t have hustled back and pouted, kept my head down.”
But Wall didn’t and he found Ariza wide open in the left corner after Trevor Booker set a huge screen. Ariza buried the three-pointer to put the Wizards ahead, 99-97, and they never trailed again.
In the first quarter, the Magic recognized some of its former employees with a video tribute for Ariza, Gortat, Wittman and Drew Gooden. One of Ariza’s highlights was a vicious dunk over his former teammate, Emeka Okafor. There were no images of Ariza hitting a three-pointer because never made one in his 1½ seasons in Orlando. Ariza made four threes on Friday and now has 151 on the season.
“Brad saved us,” Ariza said. “He definitely saved the game for us. A play like that. You’ve got to finish, especially in overtime and a time when the momentum has shifted. I got a good look at the basket and just knocked it down.”
With his back flaring up again, Beal didn’t even have the energy to run back down the floor, grimacing as he moved. He left the game for good when he defended Oladipo on a missed layup and rolled his right ankle. But he earned some more respect from his teammates.
“This kid got incredible heart. He’s got big heart,” Gortat said of Beal. “He’s super athletic and this kid is young. He’s making a name for himself. He’s one of our rising stars in the future. One day he’s going to be an all-star.”
The Wizards’ lone all-star, Wall, will eventually make good on his bet, but Beal was content simply being about 75 miles from Gainesville and claiming an important victory. “It’s always good, being in Florida, period,” Beal said. “I saw a Florida fans here and there, so it’s always love.”