Wall (again) shows why Wizards selected him first

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By Michael Lee
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 11:16 AM

If you turned the channel when Marreese Speights made a layup to give the Philadelphia 76ers a 15-point lead with about eight minutes left, or when 76ers rookie Evan Turner stepped to the foul line for two free throws and the Wizards trailing by three with eight seconds left, then you are probably disappointed that you missed the end of this one. But if you stuck around for all 53 minutes -- sometimes excruciating, other times incredibly enjoyable -- you were treated to yet another thrilling, John Wall-inspired overtime victory for over the 76ers.

The Wizards really had no business winning the game, 116-114, but Wall's determination combined with a series of boneheaded plays by the 76ers resulted in yet another overtime victory and settled any lingering debate -- if there was any -- about which player should've gone first overall.

Coach Flip Saunders summed up exactly how the 76ers -- and Coach Doug Collins, in particular -- should probably feel after yet another bizarre finish that saw Elton Brand take JaVale McGee out of midair, Trevor Booker force a critical turnover, and Wall force overtime after one of the silliest fouls at the end of regulation.

"You better keep all sharp objects away from Doug," Saunders joked, "because he's come in here twice, they've had two games where they've been right there, and they've played very well."

The major difference in each game was Wall, who showed up Turner for second time in two meetings. After scoring 29 points with 13 assists and nine steals in a 116-115 overtime win on Nov. 2, Wall served as hero once again, as he scored 25 points -- all after halftime -- and used his savvy ability to coerce Jrue Holiday into fouling him just inside halfcourt and hitting three free throws to force overtime.

With Thanksgiving two days away, Joseph White of the Associated Press appropriately dubbed the play, "a Holiday gift."

"I could tell how he was walking up to me that he was going to foul me so in that situation. I just tried to shoot the ball before he got there and see if he was going to foul me," Wall said. "Luckily I got the call and got to shoot the three free throws."

Dressed in his warm-ups for the first time in more than a week, Wall grabbed a microphone before the game but it wasn't to announce his return. He quickly wished the fans in attendance a happy Thanksgiving and handed the microphone right back. Still recovering from a sprained left foot, Wall came off the bench for the first time in his brief career.

When he entered the game with 5:47 left in the first period, Wall received a huge ovation from the crowd. It didn't take long for Wall to show some rust. He shot an airball three-pointer that led to a shot clock violation and was off-target on his first five shots in the half. "For one, I was out of shape," he said. "I was tired after a couple of minutes. I don't have the same explosiveness, but I'm fighting and playing as hard as I can."

Al Thornton sprained his left ankle and was forced to leave the game before halftime, and Wall opened the third quarter in the starting lineup with Kirk Hinrich and Gilbert Arenas. He credited his turnaround to a talk with Saunders and chugging an energy drink (if he had just mentioned the name of the drink, I'm sure he could've earned an endorsement deal on the spot). Wall was no longer tentative, but he attacked the 76ers in a much different way than expected -- with his jump shot, instead of his speed. He made 7 of 10 shots, including three three-pointers. He also was 7 for 7 from the foul line.

Wall also showed some feistiness when he got chest to belly with Speights, who confronted him after Wall shoved Turner with 27.9 seconds left. "I fouled Evan Turner the wrong way. I was going to see if he was all right and [Speights] walked up to me and said, 'Don't foul him like that,' or something like that. I wasn't going to take it, so we just got in an altercation."

Although injuries contributed to Wall coming off the bench on Tuesday, it was odd to see him in reverse roles with Turner -- who came off the bench in the first game but started the second -- as the game tipped off. No matter where the two started, though, both players again influenced the outcome. Turner showing an ability to make plays down the stretch, as he scored six points in the final 45.2 seconds of regulation. But he didn't make the play (or free throws) that his team needed.

And, Wall did more, much more, to make sure that his team won.

The separation between the two players was apparent when Turner missed two free throws with eight seconds left, when he just needed one to secure to win. "I don't ever, ever do that," Turner mumbled after the game. "I don't know how that happened."

Arenas offered a suggestion. "I told him two plays before that when I fouled him the first time and I said, 'We're going to foul you because you're a rookie. Rookies always miss," Arenas said, apparently forgetting the clutch rookie in his locker room.

Wall used the opening to lead his team into overtime, calmly making three clutch free throws, and eventually the win. He saw slightly more action that Saunders intended in his first game back since Nov. 13. "I'll say this, I didn't expect him to go out and get 25. I didn't expect him to go do that after sitting out for eight, nine days and basically having one practice," Saunders said. "He made big threes to bring us back, and we got the crowd in the game, so he made big shots."

And set the stage for interesting rematch in Philadelphia on Jan. 5.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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