John Wall reached out for Kevin Seraphin’s wayward pass to no avail, then raced to track down the ball, throwing it back into play before diving over two rows of seats behind the basket. Wall eventually gathered himself, got back up, and saw Detroit Pistons guard Will Bynum casually dribbling the ball up the court, so he sprinted ahead and knocked the ball away from Bynum, crashing onto the scorer’s table.
The Washington Wizards don’t have many players remaining or much to play for at this point in the season, but they showed Tuesday in a 107-105 win over the Pistons at Verizon Center that they refuse to go quietly into the offseason. Even with a bench that now has more players wearing sports jackets than warmups, Wall and the remaining Wizards continue to play with abandon, unwilling to accept that the final games are otherwise meaningless exercises to improve their draft position.
Wall led the charge on Tuesday, scoring 26 points and accounting for 11 of the Wizards’ final 13. His fearless play, aggressive drives and numerous collisions with the court helped the Wizards get their first three-game winning streak since President George W. Bush was in office.
“The great ones, they don’t know what time of the season it is. You look at how Michael played, Larry Bird and Magic, all those guys, they don’t know. They play because they love the game and they love to compete,” Coach Flip Saunders said of Wall, who added 12 assists. “We’ve got a lot of guys like that. We talked early in the year about a culture change, and it’s taken us time.”
The Wizards hadn’t won three straight since April 9, 2008, when Wall was a junior in high school.
But they needed some good fortune in the end. Former Georgetown star Greg Monroe (22 points, 14 rebounds) missed two free throws that could’ve tied the game with 10.2 seconds left and Pistons reserve forward Austin Daye missed a three-pointer from the right corner as time expired that rolled around the rim, appeared to go in and squirted right out.
“The basketball gods was with us,” Jordan Crawford said after scoring 17 points.
At least something was going right for the Wizards, who probably need the season to end sooner rather than later for the well-being of their players. Before the game, Saunders confirmed that Nick Young, Rashard Lewis, Josh Howard, Trevor Booker, Cartier Martin and Hamady Ndiaye are all done for the season with injuries. Martin may need surgery after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot.
With just nine players available, Crawford played through pain in his lower back, stretching on the sidelines during some breaks; and Andray Blatche continued his inspired play since returning from his sprained right shoulder injury. He finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds — his third consecutive game with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds.
“You can definitely tell we’re starting to compete, we’re starting to understand what it takes to get wins and we’re playing pretty well right now,” said Blatche, the only player on the court who had experienced a three-game winning streak with the Wizards.
The Wizards (21-56) snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Pistons and gave Saunders his first win against his former team since arriving in Washington in a hotly contested game that featured 21 lead changes and nine ties. Neither team lead by more than five points in the second half.
“We got a swagger now,” Crawford said. “You can see it. you can see how people walk around here now, people hold their heads up a little more.
“Everything is different.”
But Wall proved to the difference. Saunders had ripped Wall and Crawford in the locker room at halftime, saying the duo was going through the motions. That certainly wasn’t the case in the second half, when Wall used his blazing speed to get the basket, absorbing contact with nearly every drive, and calmly stepping to the foul line to make a career-high 14 of 16 attempts.
Wall tied the score at 100 with a layup, then found JaVale McGee inside for a dunk to even things at 102, and finally gave the Wizards the lead for good when McGee rebounded a miss by Tayshaun Prince and found Wall streaking up the court for a dunk.
“It shows that we got heart and we want to play,” Wall said.
“We’re just showing heart and fight and that we’re going to keep this going next year.”