wizards home opener

Opening-night thrills

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

John Wall swung his arms, pranced and dipped as his teammates - and the crowd at Verizon Center - encouraged him to 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 fans before the Washington Wizards 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 in 44 minutes, but the Wizards weren't able to pull out a 116-115 victory on Tuesday without Cartier Martin nailing a desperation three-pointer to force the extra frame, or Andray Blatche stepping to the foul line to hit the decisive free throws with 7.1 seconds remaining. After 76ers guard Andre Iguodala missed an awkward fallaway jumper as time expired, Wall finally pumped his fists to celebrate.

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. After opening the season with road losses against Orlando and Atlanta, two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards (1-2) returned home in search of their first win of the season. They entered in spectacular fashion, with 3D glasses needed for an elaborate introductory promotion. Wall got the crowd excited with his dance moves, then had them mesmerized with his breakneck speed and playmaking.

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, 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!"

Wall finally matched up against Turner in the third quarter, and he went directly at the No. 2 overall pick. He drove left, nudged Turner aside, then got fouled as he attempted to drive past him. Wall made two free throws to give the Wizards a 70-59 lead, but Turner would later force two turnovers while defending Wall, including one that led to a fastbreak layup for Williams.

The 76ers come back to take an 88-86 lead when Turner made a 19-foot jumper. Thornton tied the game at 90, but the 76ers scored the next six points, with Williams silencing the crowd of 17,803 with a three-pointer.

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 Williams to the foul line, trading layups for Williams free throws until they were forced to go for a tie three-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining. Wall found Martin cutting near the three-point line. Martin caught the ball, pump faked Iguodala and leaned in to hit the shot. Wall was the first teammate to rush Martin and give him a chest bump.

Lou Williams scored 20 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter, when he went 10 for 10 from the foul line. Elton Brand added 21 points before fouling out in overtime, and Holiday had 14 points and 12 assists, but Wall helped limit him to just four points after the first period. Iguodala had 12 points. Turner finished with nine points and six rebounds.

Blatche gave the Wizards a 2-0 lead with a turnaround jumper, but failed to look for his teammates for much of the first period. He shot nearly every time he touched it, leaving his teammates to serve as spectators. The Sixers took advantage of the Blatche-or-nothing offense scored 10 unanswered points, later taking a 22-8 lead, before the Wizards got an unexpected boost from Young.

Young had scored just five points in the first two games, as he struggled to get his shot to fall. But he quickly found a rhythm on Tuesday as he made a driving layup, then buried a three-pointer to spark an impressive 19-6 run to end the first period. He then scored 10 points in the second period, giving the Wizards a 40-33 lead when hit a long jumper while getting fouled by Turner.

After the 76ers came back to tie the game at 42, but Wall responded with a driving layup. The Wizards led 50-48 at halftime, with Yi Jianlian scoring the team's final six points of the second period. Yi drew cheers of "Yi!" nearly every time he touched the ball, and he took a pass from Wall and responded with a nifty drive and scoop shot.


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