TORONTO — The Washington Wizards had been waiting all season to see John Wall truly break out offensively, but he was so spectacular Friday night that his teammates mostly turned into spectators. Despite Wall erupting for a season-high 37 points, no one tagged along for the ride as the Wizards lost, 96-88, to the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.
The defeat took the luster off a stunning night from Wall, who has been mired in a shooting slump. He showed up a few hours early to the Air Canada Centre to put up some extra shots with assistant coach Sam Cassell just to remind himself how it feels to see his jumpers fall.
But after watching his team fall behind by 16 points early, Wall brought the Wizards back by repeatedly taking advantage of his most lethal weapon – speed – to put the Raptors at his mercy. Wall moved so quickly on one fast-break layup that a backpedaling Kyle Lowry lost his shoe trying to keep up, and he was feeling so confident that eventually, he was hitting from wherever he chose.
“I finally found a rhythm. I made shots,” Wall said after going 15 of 21 from the field. “It was great, but it doesn’t mean nothing if you don’t come out with a win.”
The loss snapped a two-game winning streak for the Wizards (4-8) and continued to expose a glaring problem for a team that has relied too heavily on its starting five through the first 12 games. The Wizards had covered up for the NBA’s least productive second unit in wins over Minnesota and Cleveland with solid outings from the starters, but when Bradley Beal, Nene, Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster struggled to make shots against the Raptors, there was no support.
Already missing veterans Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington because of injury, the Wizards suffered another loss when Jan Vesely – the only reserve to make significant contributions of late – twisted his back while fighting for a rebound. Vesely said he would “fine” when the Wizards host the New York Knicks on Saturday at Verizon Center, but Coach Randy Wittman will still have to solve what has been a tricky puzzle for him.
“John had a good game. It’s not about who had a good game. It’s about winning and losing. That’s what we’ve got to focus on,” Wittman said. “I’ve got to get more production out of our bench. We just go into a lag sometimes from an offensive standpoint where we don’t score for stretches. I just can’t play these guys 48 minutes.”
The Atlantic Division-leading Raptors (6-7) relied on their depth, with DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay scoring 17 points apiece, leading six players scored in double figures. Toronto’s bench outscored the Wizards’ reserves, 25-9. Washington’s second unit has scored just 42 points the past four games.
After scoring at least 20 points in each his previous three games, Nene had a bizarre night as he banged his right elbow and was held to just 10 points on 5 of 14 shooting. With the Wizards trailing by three points late in the fourth quarter, Nene went up for a dunk, but the ball hit the back of the rim and bounded high.
“This thing still hurting. It still zings, every time I turn my elbow,” Nene said afterward. “That’s no excuse for all of the mistakes, missing shots. We know we miss shot we usually make. So we need to clean our mind and prepare ourselves for the next game.”
Beal had scored at least 25 points in his past three games, but he had difficulty finding his rhythm and missed 14 of his 21 shots. He finished with 17 points. Webster added nine points and Gortat had just six points on just 3-of-10 shooting. Aside from Wall, the other Wizards combined to shoot just 21 for 65 (32.3 percent).
“We can’t get comfortable after a few wins and not show up the next day,” Gortat said. “I believe that a lot of people is mad right now that we lost, is angry and I believe this anger is going to give us energy to step out and play hard. Obviously, we need to regroup really quick.”
After Gortat missed a long jumper late in the second period, the Raptors got out on the run and DeRozan found Amir Johnson (14 points) for an alley-oop dunk that put his team ahead, 49-33. The Wizards entered the locker room trailing by 13 but Wall — who came in shooting just 35.9 percent from the floor — brought them back with a riveting performance in the third quarter, when he personally outscored Toronto, 18-15. Wall anticipated passes on defense, resulting in three steals and some unfair sprints toward the rim for layups.
Wall accounted for 16 of 18 points during one stretch, turning a seven-point deficit into a 60-57 lead when he broke down the Raptors’ defense and converted a three-point play. He gave the Wizards a 68-64 lead before sitting, but when he came back in the fourth quarter, his team was down 71-70.
The Raptors again extended the lead to 10 points, before Wall had another surge, bringing the Wizards within 90-88 with a step-back three-pointer with 93 seconds remaining. The Wizards, however, wouldn’t score again.
“You’re expending constant energy trying to come back, come back, come back, final minutes of the game, you end of being dead,” Beal said. “It’s real tough but it’s a learning lesson. We’ve got to stop getting down [with] such big leads in the first half.”