Correction: In a previous version of this story, Carmelo Anthony was incorrectly described as a Baltimore native. Anthony was born in New York City.
John Wall tried to use a crossover dribble near the end of the first half Wednesday to get around New York Knicks guard Jason Kidd, but got a little too creative and was whistled for a turnover. Wall continued to play, but as he attempted an unnecessary layup, Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire knocked Wall to the floor.
The former No. 1 overall pick was none too pleased.
Wall approached Stoudemire to have some words, then Stoudemire followed Wall up the court, bumping Wall twice before Wall pushed back. There were more words. Stoudemire again shoved Wall, who had to be held back by his teammates. Both players were assessed technical fouls, but before the night was over, Wall and his teammates let the Knicks know that the Washington Wizards are no longer a pushover – especially with Wall back on the floor, and especially in their own building – as they pulled out an impressive 106-96 victory at Verizon Center and snapped a 10-game losing streak against New York.
“Most teams like us, in our situation, we get up for those big games. You want to prepare for those big games. You know it’s going to be a packed crowd. You don’t want to get blown out and start hearing the boo chants and stuff like that,” Wall said after scoring a team-high 21 points with nine assists. “Basically we’re just competing. We’re competing against every team we play against, no matter who it is. We know those type of teams are capable of knocking you out pretty early, but we just keep fighting.”
With some much-needed three-point shooting from Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster, solid interior play from Nene and Emeka Okafor and quality bench production from Chris Singleton, the Wizards (13-35) claimed their fifth victory at home against a division leader. The Knicks (31-16) joined Miami, Oklahoma City, Chicago and the Los Angeles Clippers, who lost on Monday in their lone visit to town.
“This is home, so we try to do our best to protect it,” Ariza said after making five three-pointers and finishing with a season-high 20 points.
The Wizards have made the Verizon Center a difficult place for visiting teams in recent weeks, winning seven of their past eight at home. But even with some of the best teams and biggest stars coming to town, their games never had the feel of a full-fledged event until Wednesday, when the Knicks arrived with most valuable player candidate Carmelo Anthony.
The game attracted celebrities, such as Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, Kentucky Coach John Calipari and a handful of Washington Redskins, and the crowd was involved on nearly every play.
The Wizards jumped out to an early 11-point lead andWall excited the crowd by rejecting an Anthony layup attempt, sprinting up the floor, spinning around Kidd and converting a difficult scoop shot.
“He’s a one-man break,” Anthony said of Wall.
The Knickswalloped the Wall-less Wizards, 108-87, on Nov. 30 in New York, where Anthony scored a game-high 20 points and didn’t have to play the fourth quarter. Before the game, Knicks Coach Mike Woodson acknowledged that the Wizards are much better team with Wall back in the lineup.
Wall waited until the fourth quarter to prove Woodson right, as he scored 10 points, handed out three assists, and shook off his own fatigue to lead the Wizards to a 36-23 advantage in the final 12 minutes. He also committed his sixth turnover with a bad pass out of bounds to what Coach Randy Wittman jokingly referred to “your ghost of some another mother. We were in a situation where I wasn’t going to take him out. He got tired a little bit, but [Wall] closed out good.”
Wall had considerable help with Ariza opening the fourth quarter with a four-point play that gave the Wizards a 74-73 lead that they never relented. Ariza was pushed into a reserve after returning from a strained left calf last month but he considers himself a “sixth starter,” instead of taking the demotion as an insult. He was a stabilizing force down the stretch, scoring nine points and rebounding a Webster airball late before making a critical putback layup.
Nene had his third double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds, snagging a critical offensive rebound in the final minutes after Wall missed a driving layup. Nene got the ball and tossed it softly off the backboard and rolled in to give the Wizards a 99-92 lead. He also helped up the game away when he took a pass from Wall and hit Webster in the corner for a three-pointer that put the game out of reach. Webster finished with 19 points and also made five three-pointers as the connected on 11 of 20 from long distance. The Knicks entered the game ranked first in three-point attempts and second in three-point shooting percentage but outside of Anthony (31 points) and point guard Raymond Felton (17 points), the other Knicks were just 2 of 15 from beyond the three-point line.
Singleton also scored nine of his 10 points in the final period. Okafor finished with 12 points and seven rebounds and helped the Wizards snap Knicks center Tyson Chandler’s string of three consecutive games with 20 or more rebounds (he finished with 13).
“That’s what a quality NBA game is made up of,” Wittman said. “We had instances where we played very well and when they came back at us, we didn’t put our heads down. This is a team that it’s easy to do, as many threes as they take, as hard a cover as Carmelo is, as difficult the shots that go in, our guys stayed with it the whole time.”