LOS ANGELES — In one minute – which seemed to zip by faster than a John Wall full-court jaunt – the Washington Wizards squandered an opportunity to add a third elite team to their list of upset victims. Already with victories over Miami and Oklahoma City, the Wizards were in position to stun the Los Angeles Clippers on their home floor when Wall found Nene for a layup that brought the Wizards within one point with 93 seconds remaining.
Then the blunders that had caused them to play uphill most of the night returned at the worst possible time.
With a chance to tie, Nene missed a free throw. Then, the Wizards failed to box out after Chris Paul missed a three-pointer, letting Blake Griffin grab the Clippers’ 22nd offensive rebound and connect on an odd, twisting hook shot. They failed to protect the ball as Wall committed the team’s 18th turnover and was called for a discontinued dribble. And finally, they couldn’t get the critical stop as Paul dribbled and nudged Wall back, making him stumble before hitting a jumper that sent the Wizards to a 94-87 loss at Staples Center.
“That’s one of the teams that’s potentially, in the West, playing for a championship,” forward Trevor Ariza said of the Clippers. “But some mistakes we made cost us. I don’t think they beat us. I think we beat ourselves. A loss is a loss, either way you look at it. No loss is good. But we’ve got to get better. Period.”
After Paul’s 17-foot jumper put the Clippers ahead, 91-86, with 32.4 seconds remaining, Wall complained to the referee that he was shoved. And reserve forward Trevor Booker had to be restrained from Griffin, whom Booker alleges hit him in the face with an elbow as the two tussled for the rebound.
“He should’ve got kicked out of the game for it,” Booker said of Griffin. “Hopefully they go review it after the game and I’m looking for a suspension at least. I mean, he elbowed me to my face.”
The Wizards (8-30), who lost for the second time on this West Coast trip, were certainly upset about more than just elbows and gentle nudges. They easily could have won after holding to the Clippers to their second-worst shooting performance of the season at 36.6 percent. But they were outrebounded, 58-43, surrendered 22 second-chance points and missed 12 free throws, including four in the fourth quarter.
“It was a battle out there,” Nene said, pointing at the bandages and ice packs that covered his body following an intense game. “It was fun. It was close game. End of the game, who does the little detail, win the game.”
Coach Randy Wittman wanted to see how Wall would respond playing his first back-to-back set since returning from a left patella injury and he delivered his best scoring outing of the season. He played so well that Wittman had to raise his minutes from 25 he received in the previous three games. Wall scored a season-high 24 points and added six assists in 31 minutes in his most spirited effort since returning last week.
Wall was fired up before the game because he hadn’t won in four games against Griffin. He was also looking forward to go up against his good friend and former college backcourt mate, Eric Bledsoe. Early in the third quarter, Jordan Crawford threw an unnecessary lob, and Wall turned it into a highlight dunk, throwing the ball down with two hands to get the Wizards within 76-71 and forcing Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro to call a timeout.
But Wall’s efforts weren’t enough to keep the Wizards from avoiding their eighth consecutive loss to the Clippers.
“We gave ourselves a chance, but it slipped away,” Wall said. “I was feeling good. Coach was asking me how I was doing. I felt good. I wanted to play. It was a big game and I didn’t feel no pain in my leg.”
The Clippers (32-9) welcomed back Paul, who missed the previous three games with a bruised right patella. Paul had a double-double with 22 points and 11 assists and heard “MVP!” chants late in the game.
With Nene, Booker and Emeka Okafor taking turns to guard Griffin, the Wizards helped limit him to 17 points on just 5 of 18 shooting. But Griffin was also able to fluster Nene, who picked up a personal foul when he grabbed a rebound and threw an elbow to get some separation. Wittman got upset and picked up a technical to complain about the call as Nene angrily paraded around the floor and adjusted his hair.
Nene finished with 12 points and seven rebounds and Ariza, back in his home town, added 11 points off the bench. Bradley Beal scored 13 points but was limited after injuring his right wrist late in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 112-108 win over Denver the night before, when he absorbed a hard foul from Nuggets center Kosta Koufos.
Beal felt some soreness in the wrist and didn’t play with the same aggressiveness or sharpness though he made his first jumper to start the game. He removed the protective tape from his wrist in the second half and made two three-pointers in the fourth quarter, including one that brought the Wizards within 85-83. But after his final missed three-pointer, Beal had another hard fall when he went diving into the stands for a loose ball.
“We could’ve won the game,” Booker said. “If you look how hard we played and the way we played, we can hold our heads high.”