The first time John Wall faced the Boston Celtics at TD Garden, the rookie glanced up at the 17 championship banners and thought about one day adding another to Verizon Center. Before the game, the Celtics handed out flags that read, “It’s all about 18,” as the franchise attempts to get some separation from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Um, yes. That is tough. And impossible, since Bill Russell, the standard bearer for NBA success, was only able to haul in 11 championships in his career. But the comment was evidence of Wall’s ambitions with regards to the Wizards.
He doesn’t want many more nights like Friday, when he stepped on the floor with the young, inexperienced and inferior team breaking down against a playoff-tested Celtics team in the fourth quarter of a 104-88 loss. It was Wall’s 58th loss in 79 games this season, and he doesn’t plan on making losing a habit.
“That’s the toughest part for me,” Wall said of losing. “I’m not getting that stuck in my head or want that to be something I do for the rest of my career. But for one year that I have this year, it’s pretty tough, but next year, we’re going to have it all changed.”
For now, Wall and the Wizards will try to learn from their mistakes, learn from these defeats and use them as fuel for future campaigns. After nearly every loss, Wall has met with stars from opposing team who keep encouraging him to stay positive. “Guys already told me, it takes time, it’s a rebuilding process and me, I’m somebody who is going to work hard and get better,” Wall said.
Wall scored 20 points with seven assists, but he also had seven turnovers, with five coming in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards were held to just 13 points and fumbled away any opportunity for an upset of Celtics, who are in a hotly-contested battle with Miami for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Wizards trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter, but were able to rally back with some defense and hustle provided by a lineup that included NBA Developmental League players Larry Owens and Othyus Jeffers and rookies Jordan Crawford and Kevin Seraphin. Crawford had two baskets, Seraphin had a block, and Owens made a short jump hook, blocked a layup by Nenad Krstic and got a steal against Paul Pierce.
“Oh man, I mean you watch him on TV, and wonder could you stop him in this situation?” Owens said of Pierce. “And I just kept saying to myself, ‘body him up, don’t back down. He’s Paul Pierce, don’t back down.’ I got a couple steals and a block so I enjoyed it.”
But after that group scrapped back to bring the Wizards within four, Coach Flip Saunders put his starters back in the game, the energy level dipped, and the Celtics took control of the game. “I probably made a mistake,” Saunders said. “I told our main guys, we went with the group where we had O in there, we had Larry in there, we had Kevin in there, and those guys played well. Those guys came back and tried to do too much individually and we turned it over four of the next five times and missed a dunk. All of a sudden, it went from a four-point game to a 10-point game and we were fighting the rest of the game.”
After the game, Crawford and Wall both told McGee in the locker room that they couldn’t believe that he missed a dunk with the Wizards trailing 89-83. The Wizards crumbled from that point on, but McGee said he would focus on getting the Celtics back when they come to Verizon Center on Monday.
“It’s home, we got to take care of home,” McGee said. “It’s our last home game, so we’re going to play with a lot of energy.”
Andray Blatche said he was disappointed that the Wizards went into “panic mode” late in the game, but he believes that the team is trying to compete each time out. “We just playing every game like it’s our last ‘cause basically our last is coming up. We just going out there, putting everything on the table, and trying to have fun while it lasts.”
Wall struggled keeping up with Rajon Rondo most of the night, with Rondo reaching from behind to get steals on several occasions. Rondo had 20 points and 14 assists and was clearly motivated after getting roasted by Derrick Rose the night before in Chicago. Wall couldn’t resist having some fun with Rondo’s struggles when Wall was called for one of his seven turnovers on a double dribble. Frustrated that he couldn’t get any calls on Friday, he walked up to an official and said, “It was same move Derrick did last night against him.”
“I was making a joke with it,” Wall said, but added that he learned from playing against and speaking with Rondo. “He does a great job of getting into the paint and holding the ball, he acting like he about to shoot and then you come helpside with the big and he’s dropping it off. He knows where his teammates are. He told me, he just has trust in his teammates. They didn’t give him the ball much his rookie year, but he had to earn their trust and that’s why they are doing what they are doing and won a championship with him.”
Wall has his eyes on his own championship(s). “I have to just stay motivated. I look at Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They was 3-35 at one point a few years ago and look at them now, top four, top five team in the Western Conference,” Wall said. “This year was a good learning experience for me.”