Kevin Seraphin spotted the driver and instinctively shaded slightly to his right in preparation. Defensive awareness, though rudimentary for so many players at the NBA level, has been one of the frustrating inconsistencies plaguing Seraphin over his half-decade as the Washington Wizards’ project. But Seraphin was locked in Tuesday night.
He patiently waited for driving San Antonio Spurs forward Jeff Ayres and timed his leap perfectly, swatting Ayres’s layup attempt and recovering the deflected debris to ignite Verizon Center and a Wizards fast break. Seraphin then made an outlet pass and galloped down the court to complete the second portion of his exhibition, a perfect feed to an open Kris Humphries for an easy layup.
The end-to-end display concluded perhaps the best sequence of Seraphin’s career, a two-way spectacle in which he scored seven points in three minutes, and a crucial span for the Wizards as they halted a 17-game losing streak to the defending champion Spurs with a 101-93 victory.
By the time Seraphin exited the game with 36 seconds remaining to a deafening ovation, he had scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to go with eight rebounds.
“This is another block, hopefully, that he can use as a springboard to continue consistency of play like that,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s the key for anybody in this league to that next step.”
While Seraphin was the Wizards’ surprising performer down the stretch, a more traditional catalyst shouldered the burden for three quarters: point guard John Wall.
Wall was an unknown high school sophomore in North Carolina when the Wizards had last toppled the Spurs, in November 2005. In that game, Gilbert Arenas scored 43 points to lead Washington against a team that featured Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the starting lineup.
The trio, likely future Hall of Famers, were the only holdovers for Tuesday’s matchup, but Wall was the best player on the court. The point guard frustrated the Spurs with an assortment of moves — ranging from his usual clever and geometrically improbable passes to a new weapon, the floater — en route to a game-high 25 points and eight assists.
“He’s a guy that comes in and works on his game, and that’s what the good players do,” Wittman said. “They’re not satisfied with what you have accomplished. You want to accomplish more, and that means adding things to your game.”
The Spurs had defeated Washington 10 days earlier, 101-92, after the Wizards faltered down the stretch. The Wizards were hopeful the experience and a thrashing Sunday at the hand of the Atlanta Hawks, who play a very similar style to the Spurs, would prove beneficial.
The task was more difficult because of Parker, who was absent in the first meeting because of an injury. Parker finished with 14 points to lead five Spurs in double figures. But the Wizards’ lessons seemed to help as they outrebounded San Antonio 48-34, held the Spurs to 39.6 percent shooting and amplified the defense to hold them off after they cut the Wizards’ lead to three points with three minutes remaining.
“I thought our defense established itself,” Wizards forward Paul Pierce said. “Especially the last three, four minutes, and that’s how we got to play. We got stop after stop.”
Seraphin was in the middle providing the rim protection in those waning moments.
He was oozing the potential teammates and coaches witness and swear by everyday. They see his blend of physicality and athleticism. They see how dominant he can be on the block with an indefensible hook shot and a smooth midrange jumper.
They envision a two-way monster.
It’s why Wittman berates him the most out of all his players at practice and in games. It’s why teammates are constantly in his ear offering advice, encouragement and pointers. It’s why they are left so frustrated when the periodic mental lapses sabotage the talent.
“We stay on him because we know how good he can be, and I think sometimes he doesn’t realize how talented he really is,” said Bradley Beal, who scored 13 points. “I tell him all the time, ‘I’m going to give you the ball, and in my opinion no one can guard you in the post.’ ”
For at least one night, Seraphin didn’t disappoint. The Spurs couldn’t contain him. He was everything the Wizards imagine he can be and more, the one they leaned on to finally topple the mighty Spurs.
“Tonight is not a fluke,” Wizards guard Garrett Temple said. “He can play like that all the time.”