When John Wall arrived at Verizon Center the night after breaking out of a season-long shooting slump by scoring 37 points in a loss to the Toronto Raptors, the odds weren’t very high that he would come close to having a repeat effort against the New York Knicks – provided his history, and especially with the Wizards playing their fourth game in five nights.
But as the game got underway, it quickly became apparent that Wall was going to have another special night after he started breaking down the Knicks defense off the dribble and taking advantage of their lack of respect for his range from the perimeter by hitting jumpers. Wall made his first seven shots from field, scored 19 points in the first half, and went on to finish with a game-high 31 in the Wizards’ 98-89 victory over a ragged-looking Knicks team.
“He’s playing well,” Knicks Coach Mike Woodson said. “He had an awesome night [Friday] night, came back and duplicated it.”
The first eight times he scored at least 30 points in game, Wall didn’t quite have a dud in the next game but he often came well short of a repeat. Entering Saturday’s game, Wall’s average in the game following a 30-point effort was 20 points on 38.6 percent (53 for 137) shooting.
The performances ranged from a 13-point game in Denver the day after scoring a then-career-high 32 points against the Los Angeles Clippers as a rookie, to a 29-point performance against New York after scoring 31 points against Toronto in his second season. Wall failed to get more than 18 points after any of his four 30-point games last season (he had 18 points on 3-for-18 shooting in Oklahoma City after his career-high 47-point outing against Memphis).
Wall felt that his game against the Raptors didn’t “mean nothing” since the Wizards lost. He again seemed like a one-man show for much of the first half, carrying Washington with his hot shooting and aggressive drives.
After taking a pass near half court, Wall juked Knicks guard Pablo Prigioni and sprinted past everyone to sink a finger roll over a helpless J.R. Smith. He later used a behind-the-back dribble to get by Prigioni before making a floater while getting fouled. Wall was in such a groove that he didn’t show any hesitation when he pulled up for jump shots.
“Just kept pulling my jump shot and just getting extra work in with my coaches, and coach Sam Cassel,” Wall said. “Just doing the right thing they wanted to see. I know teams are going to continue to go under [on pick-and-rolls] and I was making shots.”
Unlike the night before, when he was the only Wizard who could hit shots, Wall had a chance to sit back and let Marcin Gortat, Bradley Beal and Martell Webster get going the second half. But when the game started to get shaky, Wall steadied his team by knocking down a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 92-83 lead. Afterward, Wall pushed down his hands to calm down the crowd or any teammates nervous that the game was headed toward a negative outcome.
“John is making shots,” Beal said. “I’m really curious to see how teams are going to guard us now, because they’ve really been keying on me, shooting the ball well, ‘Tell is shooting the ball and now John is shooting the ball well.”
Wall shot 10 of 18 from the field against the Knicks and once again boosted his second field goal percentage from 39.8 percent to 42.7 percent and his season scoring average from 17.6 points to 18.6 points. Before the past two games, Wall was shooting 35.8 percent and averaged just 15.8 points.
The past two games also made Wall’s week look even more impressive, with the Wizards (5-8) going 3-1. In the four-game stretch, Wall averaged 24.3 points on 50 percent (36 of 72) shooting and 8.8 assists. He matched his career high with 16 assists against the Timberwolves.
Coach Randy Wittman said Wall’s explosion in the past two games is the result of team’s focusing on shutting down their perimeter shooters and running them off the three-point line. “We’ve shot the three pretty good and obviously that’s on the scouting report. Well, if you’re going to do that, because you’re concerned about guys on the perimeter, then John is getting into the lane, getting into that 15-foot pull-up because of that. So, when he doesn’t force that and they want to collapse, we’ve got to kick the ball out. When he plays to that balance of, what are they going to do tonight? Are they going to take me away? All right, good, we’ll make you pay and I’ll get 16, 17 assists. If not, then I’m going to create and get some more scoring opportunities.”
Webster made five three-pointers, including three in the second half, when Wall was able to create more open looks. “That’s what we want to do this year,” Webster said. “That’s why this organization has surrounded John with shooters so that we can open up the lane for him. He took advantage of his opportunities tonight which is big, and he’s going to have to continue to do that. He knows when teams are over committing, that he’s got to fire passes to the perimeter, and if we knock those down with consistency, we’ll be consistent winners.”
Disappointed by his slow start, Wall put in some extra time with assistant coach Sam Cassell so that he could his season back on track. He has to be encouraged by the past two games. “I just know I wasn’t playing the way I supposed to and I started playing the right way and I still wasn’t making shots, knowing that the hard work I put into it, and I wasn’t doing the right things, what I’ve been doing in the gym, so I believed in myself in being able to take those open shots,” Wall said, speaking as quickly as he runs up and down the floor. “Just being confident and my teammates having the confidence in me. Being able to come out and shoot shots because they’ve seen me work on it.”