John Wall has stood here before, on the precipice of advancing in the playoffs. Another Game 6 at Verizon Center, another chance for the Washington Wizards to extend a second-round series — or prepare to clean out their lockers for the summer.
On Friday, however, the view over this cliff looked a bit more daunting. In 2014 and 2015, a rising Wizards team surprised the East by moving into the second round. This time, an entire season of Wizards success preceded the playoffs. After 49 wins and a division title — franchise achievements that have not been reached in nearly 40 years — the Wizards are no longer upstarts but potential contenders for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And yet, if Washington can’t hold off elimination by the Boston Celtics, these season honors will turn to debris, at least according to Wall.
Asked Friday how he would feel about the 2016-17 season if the Wizards lose another second-round Game 6 at home, Wall was blunt.
“It’ll be a disappointing season,” he said. “It’ll be a waste of time. I feel like the season was a waste if we don’t get to where we want to go and that’s giving ourselves one more chance to fight.”
So if the Wizards do not advance to the Eastern Conference finals? “I feel like it’s a loss,” Wall said.
But hey, no pressure.
Both Wall and Bradley Beal expressed the importance of players staying within themselves, especially the core guys who have previous experience.
“I think John and I and Otto [Porter Jr.] and [Marcin] Gortat, we’ve been in this situation before where it’s a closeout situation on our home floor, so I think we know what it takes. We’ve faced it,” Beal said. “It can be a situation where guys press, and you just want to win so bad, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just guys have their heart and just want to win so bad that sometimes we can get out of character and do something we shouldn’t. But I think we won’t do that. I think we have a goal in mind and Coach has a great game plan for us moving forward. We know what we need to do as a team to win.”
In 2014, the Wizards lacked experience against the Indiana Pacers and did not know how to close a game. The next year, Wall’s fractured left hand and wrist voided Washington’s run against the Atlanta Hawks. Now, as a more veteran team with no apparent injuries hindering the core players, the Wizards want to take the lessons from the past and play with contained urgency against the Celtics.
“You have to treat it as another game but understanding it’s a very important game and come out with a lot of energy,” Wall said. “You don’t want to put too much pressure on guys and having guys thinking too much throughout the day.”