By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 1:09 AM
John Wall swung his arms, pranced and dipped as his teammates - and the crowd at Verizon Center - encouraged him keep going. The smile on Wall's face got larger as he grooved to music, shaking and sliding his hand behind his head. When his teammates finally circled him, Wall did his infamous tea-kettle inspired dance.
With a few fancy moves after he was introduced at home for the first time in his career, Wall answered two questions that may have been on the minds of Washington Wizards fans before they played the Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, Wall's sprained right ankle was okay. And no, the 20-year-old rookie was not going to be overwhelmed. He was prepared to put on a show.
Wall was like a cyclone on the floor, whirling all over and doing everything in his power to will the Wizards to their first win of the season. He finished with a team-high 29 points, 13 assists and 9 steals, but the Wizards wouldn't have been able to pull out a 116-115 victory on Tuesday without reserve Cartier Martin nailing a desperation three-pointer to force the extra frame, or Andray Blatche overcoming some missed shots and fumbled plays to step to the foul line and hit the decisive free throws with 7.1 seconds remaining.
"I was trying to do anything to help my team win and everybody just came along with me, made big plays for us," said Wall, who celebrated his first NBA victory by pumping his fist after 76ers guard Andre Iguodala missed an awkward fallaway jumper as time expired.
Blatche scored a season-high 23 points and a team-high eight rebounds, Nick Young came off the bench to score 20 points and Al Thornton added 12 for the Wizards, who returned home after opening the season with road losses against Orlando and Atlanta - two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference - to record their first win of the season. The game was played at a chaotic pace against a 76ers team that also arrived at Verizon Center winless.
The Wizards trailed by 14 points in the first quarter, came back to take an 11-point lead in the second half and had to scramble back in order to extend the game with some heroics in the final 3.1 seconds of regulation. Coach Flip Saunders had drawn up a play for Young, using Kirk Hinrich (eight points, nine assists) as a decoy. But Wall found Martin cutting near the three-point line. Martin caught the ball, pump faked Iguodala and leaned in to hit the shot, sending a charge through the announced crowd of 17,803. Wall was the first teammate to rush Martin and give him a chest bump. "It was meant for us to get one tonight," Young said. "After that I said, the basketball gods was looking out for us."
That faith was tested throughout the overtime as the Wizards had almost as many turnovers (three) as field goal attempts (four). Blatche was responsible for all of the miscues - he had six turnovers overall - and the fans let out a collective grown when he got the ball against Elton Brand (21 points, nine rebounds), who had hit the go-ahead jumper for Philadelphia on the previous possession. Blatche drove the ball right at Brand, who fouled out on the play, then made both free throws.
"I told our guys, we were 2-1 tonight. We won two and we lost one. It felt like we played three games tonight," Saunders said with a laugh. "We feel really good right now. We're one shot away from feeling really bad. The one thing, our fans will be cheering and booing on the same play many times, but our guys will play hard and compete and keep them on the edge of their seats."
The Wizards entered in spectacular fashion, with 3-D glasses needed for an elaborate introductory promotion on the big screen HD video monitor. Wall got the crowd excited with his dance moves and then had them mesmerized with his breakneck speed and playmaking ability.
Wall was dazzling in the third quarter, as he repeatedly stripped the ball from Philadelphia players and turned the game into a track meet, pushing the ball up the floor and flying past the 76ers. He had eight points and six steals in the period, turning one into a breakway left-handed dunk. He later stole the ball from 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday (14 points, 12 assists), then glided up the floor and bounced around No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner for a layup. Wall then lowered his shoulders, ran down the court as if he was an airplane and shouted, "Woo!"
"I guess I just got lucky, being in the right place at the right time. Went for a steal and I got 'em," said Wall, who also had eight turnovers. "Coach told us don't gamble too much, tonight I felt like I was in the right way and I had the right state of mind to get the ball."
The Wizards led, 70-59, with about two minutes left in the third quarter, but the 76ers came back to take an 88-86 lead when Evan Turner (nine points) made a 19-foot jumper. Turner put the 76ers up, 100-94, with another jumper, but the Wizards scored the next five points, with Wall converting a three-point play and Thornton making two free throws. The Wizards kept sending Lou Williams (30 points) to the foul line, trading layups for Williams free throws (he was 10 for 10 in the fourth quarter) until they were forced to go for a tie.
Wall said he wants to take the big shots, but he had no problem passing off to Martin. And after leaving the arena on Monday afternoon wearing a protective boot on his right ankle, he still finished with a game-high 45 minutes played. "His thing, he's got unbelievable will to win. He wants to take the last shot, he wants to take the big shot; he wants to make the play," Saunders said about Wall. "We know where we're heading and we know we have a great player in John Wall to build on. We know we're going to get there, but it's a matter of how long it's going to take us."