The 20-point lead seemed to vanish in the time it takes John Wall to get to the basket on one of his patented full-court drives. Wall was angry, and clashed momentarily with Coach Randy Wittman on the bench over blown defensive assignments, forcing the short-handed Washington Wizards to huddle to find a solution for the hard-charging Milwaukee Bucks.
On the verge of their worst collapse of the season, the Wizards regrouped around Wall, who settled down his teammates with his playmaking and scoring, posting 23 points and 10 assists to lead the Wizards to a 106-93 victory at Verizon Center. Wall was prepared to carry a heavy burden with the Wizards down to just two healthy back-court players and he overcame his own fatigue to log a season-high 43 minutes on the second end of back-to-back games.
“I’m still trying to get back into top game shape,” said Wall, who soaked in the cold tub after the game. “Whatever to help my team win and me to getting better, I’m willing to do it.”
The Wizards (21-42) surpassed their win total from the 66-game lockout-shortened campaign of last season and improved to 16-14 since Wall returned from a three-month absence with a stress injury in his left knee. Washington also won its third straight game at home and took two of three in the season series against the Bucks (32-31), a likely playoff team.
With Bradley Beal missing his fifth consecutive game with a sprained left ankle and backup point guard A.J. Price out because his right groin was sore from the night before, the Wizards were down to guards Wall and Garrett Temple.
Wall made electrifying drives, spin-move dishes, and even used a wicked crossover Wednesday night. He has put together his best string of consecutive games, coming off a game in Cleveland in which he notched season-highs with 27 points and 14 assists in a loss.
“Just being more aggressive,” said Wall, who is averaging 19 points and 7.7 assists and shooting 48 percent from the field in his past five games. “Just give credit to me working more harder with [assistant coach Sam Cassell] on my jump shot and those type of things, getting to spots and watching film.”
Reserve swingman Trevor Ariza wasn’t optimistic that he would play after sitting the second half of Tuesday’s loss with a sore left knee. Ariza tested his knee before the game and decided to play, giving the Wizards some much-needed boost.
“If I can run, I’m going to play. If I can stand and walk, I’m going to play. So that’s all it takes,” Ariza said after scoring 14 points and knocking down three three-pointers. “That’s what happens sometimes. When you’re shorthanded, you find ways to win. You always try to pick up what the other people do, especially when they are out. We did a good job of that. John did a good job of controlling the game.”
Six Wizards scored in double figures, including reserve Trevor Booker (13 points and 12 rebounds), who has struggled to get consistent minutes but played with the aggressiveness and energy that he had become known for in his first two seasons.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Booker said. “I felt like myself. I felt like the old Book.”
The Wizards led, 66-46, when Nene (13 points and 13 rebounds) drove inside and delivered an underhand pass to Emeka Okafor for a dunk, but the lead didn’t last very long. No longer moving the ball or trying to do anything to mirror what helped them build the lead, the Wizards went through another prolonged scoring drought and slipped defensively as the Bucks closed the period on a 32-9 run.
Wittman called a timeout during the meltdown and argued with Wall in front of the bench. “That’s coaching, come on,” Wittman said of the exchange. “I love that.”
Wittman loved the response of his team even more. Temple, who has started the past three games in place of Beal, scored 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting and made two layups during a 7-0 run to start the fourth period. Ellis helped the Bucks close the gap to 85-83, but Wall answered with a running layup and the Bucks never got closer.
“That was a gutty performance,” Wittman said.
“We didn’t panic,” Booker said. “In the past, we would’ve definitely panicked. It was something new for me because we actually stayed calm, so that’s a good sign for us.”
Ersan Ilyasova (21 points, 12 rebounds) made a jumper to trim the Bucks’ deficit to seven at 95-88, but Booker answered with a hook shot and Wall provided the finishing touches with a floater in the lane and a pull-up jumper. The Wizards concluded their scoring when Wall found Ariza in the corner for his third three-pointer and Wall’s 10th assist.
The Wizards shot 50 percent from the floor and from beyond the three-point line for the fourth time and they are undefeated in each case, recording wins over Charlotte, Orlando and New York. Wall even buried a three-pointer over Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, celebrating by forming his fingers into goggles after the ball dropped.
“There was an instance where I really saw his greatness and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with performance. It has to do with understanding that we gave the lead up and he took us and put us on his back and was able to find guys, was able to score, was talking, able to get steals and I think that all-around game was what got us back into the game,” said Martell Webster, who scored 20 points and hitg four three pointers for the third straight game. “We fed off his energy.”