“I thought it was for me,” Wall said with a grin afterward. “He’s just 7 feet. I couldn’t get there.”
It was that kind of night for the Washington Wizards, who won their first game of the season, 93-78, at Verizon Center. They often not only had more than one favorable option available on offense but also someone capable of finishing. The Wizards have struggled offensively for much of this season, but they finally made the extra pass, made open shots and put together a solid defensive effort.
And in a rare scene, players gave each other high fives on the way off the court, smiles were all around, and fans gave them a standing ovation. The win had been a long time coming, since the Wizards had not tasted victory since April 11, when they defeated Boston in the second-to-last game of last season.
“It felt good to get a win instead of getting booed,” Nick Young said after he and Rashard Lewisled the team with 15 points apiece. “It was like a playoff game. I felt like jumping in the stands.”
With the Wizards (1-8) in desperate need of something different, Coach Flip Saunders decided to mix up his starting lineup by replacing Andray Blatche with Trevor Booker, their undersized but high-energy forward who had been the team’s best player over the past three games. Saunders also kept rookie Chris Singleton in the starting lineup instead of Lewis, who had missed the previous loss against Minnesota with a sore right knee.
The new starting lineup didn’t yield immediate results, as the Wizards were outscored, 20-17, in an ugly first period. But it did provide Saunders with more flexibility in his rotation and give the team more firepower coming off the bench.
Blatche had aggravated a right shoulder injury the day before in practice, when Saunders initially made the roster move, and was listed as a game-time decision.
Blatche didn’t appear to be hurting as he took 11 shots, scored nine points and even grabbed eight rebounds — one of them with only his injured arm. “That was pretty good, right?” Blatche said, adding that he elected to “tough it out” to “support my teammates.”
“When we playing like that, I don’t have no problem doing that role,” Blatche said of coming off the bench. “We should have confidence and some kind of swagger about ourselves. We didn’t just win, we actually played well. It’s fine with me. as long as we’re winning. If we’re not winning, that’s when things change.”
Saunders also got some quality production from rookies Shelvin Mack and Jan Vesely. Vesely had an uneven debut on Sunday, but on Tuesday he was energetic on both ends of the floor, fighting for rebounds, creating five steals and providing two highlight dunks. He stole the ball from Calderon, dribbled up the court, dunked with two hands and got a standing ovation from the fans. He later soared high above the rim to catch an impossible alley-oop pass from Mack. Despite being well outside the paint, Vesely was still able to throw down the ball, and he shivered as a form of celebration.
Ten players scored as the Wizards set new season highs with 48.8 percent shooting and 20 assists. “Everybody coach put in the game played well,” Singleton said after scoring nine points and grabbing a team-high nine rebounds.
The Wizards were the last team in the NBA without a victory, setting a franchise record for futility to start the season, but they took advantage of a Toronto team that was coming to Washington for the second game of a three-games-in-three-nights set. They took control of the game in the second and third period, when they outscored the Raptors 54-32, forced 15 turnovers and handed out 14 assists.
They also had to spend the previous two days hearing about how terrible they were after losing at home by 21 points to a team that arrived in town with just two wins.
Saunders credited owner Ted Leonsis, who applauded the team from his courtside seat throughout the game. “You know, like Ted even said before the game: ‘Don’t listen to anything you hear. We know what we’ve planned and what we’ve done and how we’re going about doing it. At times it’s going to look bad. Don’t lose sight of where we’re trying to get, and the process that we’re going through,’ ” Saunders said.
“It’s about time for all of us,” said Wall, who had nine assists.
Though Wall had another difficult night shooting the ball as he missed 9 of 12 shots and finished with just eight points, there was no reason to get upset on Tuesday, even as McGee beat him to an easy alley-oop. “I didn’t even know John was behind me. I thought I dunked on somebody and I realized it was my teammate,” McGee said with a laugh, before reflecting on the win. “I’m sort of relieved. But we still only got one win. We still got the worst record right now. We’ve got to get some more wins. I’m not satisfied with one win.”