TORONTO – Before taking on the Wizards on Friday at Air Canada Centre, Toronto Raptors Coach Dwane Casey stressed the importance of getting back on defense to contain the speedy John Wall. Following their instructions, Raptors guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were waiting for Wall to attack and blocked off his path — until Wall whirled the ball behind his back to split them and made a finger roll.
Lowry and DeRozan stared at each other, helplessly trying to figure out how they were supposed to stop that. With his team becoming unglued, Wall had the ability to do something about it with his scoring, posting the most prolific scoring half of his career.
Wall scored 30 of his season-high 37 points in the second half of the Wizards’ 96-88 loss to the Raptors and almost single-handedly brought them back from a 16-point deficit to an improbable road victory.
“You can see why he got paid all that money,” DeRozan said of Wall. “He’s definitely a heck of player. He has the passion to win and he showed that … to try and bring his team back. We had to withstand that as much as we could and get the win.”
This season has been a struggle for Wall offensively, but Friday he finally found the driving lanes, confidently shot pull-up jumpers and repeatedly beat the Raptors down the court for a much-needed breakout performance.
Wall shot 15 of 21 from the field, connecting on at least 50 percent of his shots for just the fourth time this season. In his four previous games, Wall scored a total of 53 points and shot 19 of 65 (29.2) percent from the floor.
But with one game, he raised his scoring average from 15.8 points per game to 17.6 points and his field goal percentage from 35.8 percent to 39.5.
“It’s kind of how the flow of the game goes,” Wall said. “I made shots, but we didn’t do a great job. They are a competitive team with talented players and we just didn’t do the job defensively.”
The Wizards (4-8) let the Raptors score 38 points in the first 14 minutes, allowing them to connect on 16 of their first 23 shots. They trailed 51-36 with 5.8 seconds left in the second period, but clawed within seven points in the third quarter by forcing the Raptors to miss six of their first seven shots of the half.
Wall took over from there, scoring 16 of the Wizards’ next 18 points in a span of five minutes to give his team a 62-60 lead. He made another pull-up jumper to push the lead to four before getting a breather, but the Wizards broke down once again, allowing a crushing 16-5 run. That forced another spurt by Wall that included a four-point sequence — he made one of two free throws and then a three-pointer after Bradley Beal got the rebound — to bring his team within 90-88.
“We know we’re a better team than that,” Wall said. “For us to try to be a good team, we’ve got to find a way to do it for 48 minutes. Like the other night in Cleveland, we started out hot, then in the fourth quarter we settled down. We got to find a way to do it for four quarters.”
Marcin Gortat said the Wizards “overslept” on the defensive end but they had some decent stretches to get back into the offense. With the exception of Wall erupting for the ninth 30-point game of his career, the offense was could never get going, with the Raptors intent on shutting down one of the Wizards’ staples, the corner three-pointer.
Bradley Beal had shot 12 of 19 from long distance in his previous three games, but connected on just 2 of 9 against the Raptors. Wall was 2 for 2 but overall the Wizards shot 6 for 17 from three-point range, their lowest total of the season.
Beal had a rough night, needing 21 shots to get 17 points. He vowed not to have a repeat performance when the Wizards returned to Verizon Center on Saturday to host the New York Knicks.
“I thought I was going to have a good game. I hit my first two, then all of a sudden, I just fell apart,” Beal said. “It happens sometimes. I’ll definitely make up for it” against the Knicks.
With Wall forced to be more of a scorer than facilitator, the Wizards had just 17 assists. Washington is winless this season when it has fewer than 28. The problem wasn’t necessarily ball movement; Wizards not named Wall didn’t make shots. Beal, Nene, Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster were a combined 18 of 53 (34 percent).
“We weren’t ourselves out there,” Webster said. “All night, were just sluggish. We have to brush this one off and move on to the next one.”
Wall said beating the Knicks could easily help them forget. “Great thing is, you’re 4-8 – it sounds bad, you want to have a better record – but you’re right there in consideration for the playoffs and it’s still early. We just got to find a way to win these games and it’s not a bad way to get a win at home [against New York] and get three of these last four games.”