John Wall was charged up for his first game against rookie sensation Blake Griffin. It was evident from early on in Saturday’s game when he drove down the lane and dunked, pounding his chest as he ran down the floor. Wall was aggressive all night, keeping his opponents backpedaling and lifting his teammates through their momentary lulls.
Problem was, the Washington Wizards couldn’t provide Wall with much support — be it because of attrition or talent disparity — to defeat Griffin’s Los Angeles Clippers. The first matchup of the past two No. 1 overall picks in the NBA draft lived up to the hype — Wall’s 25 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds compared favorably with Griffin’s 26 points and five rebounds — but the Wizards were trounced, 122-101, before the fourth sellout crowd of the season at Verizon Center.
Many of those came to see Griffin, one of the league’s new marquee attractions, an all-star in his first season who prevailed in the slam-dunk contest over JaVale McGee last month in Los Angeles. But aside from catching an alley-oop lob from Mo Williams, fans mostly witnessed the Wizards usher Griffin to the foul line for free throw attempts. Griffin did all of his damage in the first half, and it proved to be enough, and he served as a spectator in the fourth quarter of a game that spiraled out of control.
The Wizards (16-48) trailed 68-63 after Wall made two free throws, and for a moment there was hope that the team could overcome a 19-point first-half deficit. But the momentum vanished in a hurry. Josh Howard dribbled the ball out of bounds, Yi Jianlian committed an offensive foul, and Wall had two turnovers as the Clippers got out on the break and extended the lead to 16 in about five minutes.
The Clippers extended the lead to 27 in the fourth quarter, when Wall’s former back-court mate at Kentucky, Eric Bledsoe, scored 17 of his career-high 23 points.
“Once they started getting dunks, we just dropped our heads and they took our hearts away from us,” Wall said after the Wizards lost for the 10th time in the past 11 games. Seven of those losses have been by double digits.
The Wizards had three days off after an embarrassing home loss to Milwaukee, with Coach Flip Saunders saying that he would use the time off as a training camp for his young team, leaving spots in the lineup open and possibly taking away any sense of entitlement that may have developed over the course of another miserable season in Washington. But the changes he was forced to make on Saturday were based largely out of necessity, since the Wizards were hardly entering the game from a position of strength.
They were short-handed at power forward, with Andray Blatche missing his first game with a sprained right shoulder and Rashard Lewis missing his third straight game with tendinitis in his right knee. Saunders gave Trevor Booker and Yi the assignment of trying to at least contain Griffin, which became extremely difficult since neither player could stay on the floor. Through the first three quarters, Booker and Yi combined to play 19 minutes and contributed zero points and 10 fouls. With Griffin sitting in the fourth period, Booker scored all of his 13 points.
“They kept going to Blake, kept going to Blake,” Booker said. “Just being physical. He was trying to back me down but I would resist. I put my chest on him, tried to contest every shot. I think it was a couple of questionable calls, but sometimes it goes that way.”
Nick Young was also available, but was obviously nursing a sore left knee as he struggled from the floor, scoring 15 points on 7-of-17 shooting.
“I just went out there to show my teammates I’m not quitting. I’m going to play through injuries,” Young said. “I re-hurt it a little bit. I kept trying to go through it. I was dragging it. I was dragging it, and I was trying to tell coach. I knew they needed me and I was trying my best to just be out there.”
McGee had 12 points and eight rebounds for the Wizards, catching a half-court alley-oop lob from Wall for a vicious one-handed jam over Griffin, getting some semblance of payback for losing the slam-dunk contest during All-Star Weekend. “I just dunked the ball and got an alley-oop like I always do,” McGee said. “We were playing hard, especially being short-handed with people being injured. But we just couldn’t hang in there. You could tell, some people were getting tired and we really needed the guys that are out right now.”
Jordan Crawford added 16 points off the bench, but he missed 12 of 16 shots and was 0 for 5 from three-point range. The Clippers (26-41) benefited from 23 free throw attempts in the first quarter, with Griffin making 8 of 9, and 38 fast-break points on the game.
“We’re not as good as them right now,” Saunders said. “I think we just ran out of bodies. We just didn’t have enough bodies. We really struggled at times.”