While the lengthy injury report opened playing time for several seldom-used reserves, it was John Wall who seized the moment.
Wall scored a career-high 47 points to lead the undermanned Wizards past the Grizzlies, 107-94, at Verizon Center. The playmaking point guard also added a career-best 19 points at the foul line, although afterward his focus was on the five free throws he didn’t make.
“I could have 52 if I had made my free throws,” said Wall, whose output ranks as the third-highest point total by an NBA player this season. “But so be it.”
Emeka Okafor picked up what little slack Wall left at the line, tallying 21 points and nine rebounds to give the Wizards a necessary post presence against one of the league’s most physical teams.
The win marks Washington’s sixth straight at home as well as its first victory against Memphis since 2010.
Signs of Wall’s big night surfaced in warmups, when he wowed the crowd with a one-handed, 360-degree dunk, showing few signs of any lingering fatigue from the Wizards’ recent four-game road trip.
He continued to assert himself once the game started. He made three consecutive jump shots that put the Wizards up 12-4 midway through the first quarter.
“I thought the first five minutes were going to be key,” Wittman said. “If we could come out in the first five minutes and establish both ends of the floor a little bit, I thought it would help our psyche a little bit coming into this and it really did that.”
But when Wall went to the bench with 1 minute 43 seconds left in the quarter, so did Washington’s offensive production.
The Grizzlies went on a 16-3 run that spilled into the second quarter, turning a seven-point deficit into a 32-28 advantage. Quincy Pondexter, who scored eight of his 14 points in the period, stretched the Memphis lead to nine before Wall again took over.
Showing off his ever-improving jump shot, Wall scored 16 of Washington’s next 25 points. During that stretch, the Grizzlies went nearly four minutes without a field goal before Mike Conley hit a three-pointer just before the buzzer to knot the halftime score at 55.
“I was just in the zone. I made my first couple shots and I knew I was in a great rhythm,” Wall said. “My coach and my teammates just rode me, and they just said keep carrying them.”
The Wizards’ momentum carried into the third quarter, as they opened the period on an 8-0 run.
But Conley kept the Grizzlies in it, draining open looks from outside while getting into the lane for opportunities at the free throw line.
Meantime, Wall cooled off, missing four of his five shots as the Grizzlies pulled within two entering the fourth quarter.
With just eight other players to turn to, the Wizards found a spark in Cartier Martin.
Fresh off a career-high 23-point performance against Golden State, the reserve guard scooped in a reverse layup before nailing the first of two three-pointers in the fourth period to give Washington a 91-81 cushion.
Wall took over from there, hitting a step-back fadeaway that bested his previous career high of 38 points.
The Grizzlies rallied in the final 90 seconds, with Jerryd Bayless making consecutive jump shots to cut the deficit to 98-94. But in a moment that bookended his highlight in warmups, Wall nailed a long three-pointer with 45 seconds left to seal the win and give the Wizards momentum as they hit the road for two more games.
“When somebody has got it going like that, there is really nothing you can do,” said Conley, who finished with a team-high 23 points. “You just put a hand up and hope he misses.”
Wall’s coach was equally impressed.
“I’ve witnessed a lot of games. I’ve played with some pretty good players. I’ve coached some pretty good players. That was an incredible performance for him,” Wittman said. “It felt to me that it was all under control. All within our offense. All within what we were doing. It was aggressive. That was incredible.”