OAKLAND, Calif. — John Wall carried the most dubious reputation as a three-point shooter among the four starting guards at Oracle Arena on Tuesday night. And his inability to consistently connect from the perimeter is one of the reasons he wasn’t chosen to join Bradley Beal, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson among the rising young players selected for USA Basketball’s 28-player pool for international competitions through 2016.
But with the Washington Wizards and Golden State Warriors tied with 90 seconds remaining, it didn’t matter that Wall wasn’t a noted marksman or that he was struggling to connect from anywhere most of the night. Wall simply had the ball. And opportunity.
After tracking down a Beal miss from long distance, Trevor Ariza slung a pass out to a wide open Wall, who buried a three-point shot that gave the Wizards an 88-85 victory over the Warriors that once again pushed their record back to .500.
“I think I stepped into it with a lot of confidence and it was the big shot we needed,” Wall said. “I felt confident and let it ride.”
Wall finally claimed his first-ever win over Curry in six tries as the Wizards (22-22) snapped a six-game losing streak to Golden State dating back to Dec. 18, 2009. Trying to figure out the Wizards has become a bit of a mystery in recent weeks, with their inability to claim wins against opponents with inferior records while knocking off some of the NBA's upper echelon.
The trend continued as the Wizards defeated the Warriors with a performance that required some guile and toughness against one of the league’s most explosive offensive teams. Ariza only had nine points, but he grabbed 11 rebounds — including the offensive carom that set up Wall's three-pointer — and forced Curry into missing a leaning, left-handed three-pointer as time expired.
“I was trying to make him shoot left handed,” Ariza said, jokingly, while explaining his strategy on defense. “Nah, I tried to crowd him. Tried to not let him get off a three.”
Beal admitted that he was a little nervous when the shot left Curry’s hand. “I really thought that was going to hit the backboard and go in, that was just his luck,” Beal said with a laugh.
“When it hit backboard, I felt pretty safe,” Wall said.
Beal scored 18 of his team-high 20 points second half to help the Wizards avenge a 16-point loss to Golden State when the teams met on Jan. 5 at Verizon Center. He missed his first four shots and finished 1 for 7 from the floor in the first half. He appeared headed toward another forgettable performance against Golden State, which held him to nine points when the teams met earlier this month.
But the Wizards came out more determined to get him going in the second half. He finished 8 of 19 from the floor and knocked down three three-pointers at the start of the third quarter to push the Wizards’ lead to 75-68 with 9 minutes 55 seconds to play.
“I just kept shooting. I had amnesia, and I wasn't getting down on myself in the first half because I got good looks and I was taking what the defense was giving me and the shots that I wanted," Beal said. "I didn't lose my confidence or anything like that. I knew in the second half I had to step up for this team to be able to win.”
The Wizards are now 2-1 on this Western Conference road trip, with the wins coming against teams that are currently among the top eight teams in the West and the loss coming against a Utah team that has the third-worst record in the conference.
Over the past two weeks, the Wizards have defeated the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls, while losing to the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons.
“We don’t even worry about them. We just keep it moving,” Ariza said. “We beat a team today. Okay, cool now we got to go in tomorrow and do the same thing.”
The Wizards will conclude their road trip on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers before heading home to face Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio. All four of those opponents are in playoff contention. The Wizards improved to 12-11 on the road this season.
Tuesday’s game got off to an ominous start, with a sloppy exchange after the opening tip. Beal tossed the ball to an unprepared Wall. Wall let the ball slip through his hands, right to Curry, who raced up the floor for a layup — that is, until Wall caught up and slapped Curry’s shot against the backboard. Curry led all scorers with 23 points but missed 15 of 23 shots. In two games against the Wizards this year, Curry is 13 for 40.
“It wasn’t a pretty game by either team offensively, but these are the kind of games our defense can win for us when we shoot 37 percent,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That was a big win for us.”
Thompson also struggled — he had just 13 points – half of what he scored in the teams’ previous meeting, when he had a game-high 26 points. He hit a three-pointer to put the Warriors ahead 79-77 with 6:37 left, but the Wizards went on an 8-1 run that ended with Wall hitting a midrange jumper and Ariza getting a steal and a layup. But the Warriors erased the deficit quickly as Curry hit a three before David Lee tied the game at 85 with a driving layup.
The last time Wall was in this building last March, he wasn't on the floor at the end after being ejected for threatening harm upon Thompson if he drove inside after some overly physical play.
“That’s one thing I wanted to do was finish the game,” said Wall, who finished with 15 points on just 6-of-19 shooting, but added eight rebounds and five assists.
Wall had a terrible shooting night, but stepped up to knock down a huge shot when it mattered most. Ariza tracked down a rebound, then found Wall above the three-point line, where he calmly knocked down the shot that put the Wizards ahead for good.