When John Wall’s electrifying drives, surprising three-pointers and bench-hurdling hustle weren’t enough to get them going, the Washington Wizards had to tap into other sources to get past the red-hot Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night at Verizon Center. They found it in an Al Harrington two-handed putback dunk, a Drew Gooden scoring flurry and an energized sellout crowd that brought a playoff atmosphere to the building.
After his team rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit, Wall concluded the scoring on an emotional 101-94 victory when he rebounded a Joe Johnson miss and took off for a left-handed slam that sent the crowd into a tizzy. And as the final seconds ticked off on a win that completed a season sweep of Brooklyn and moved the Wizards into sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference, Wall held the ball screaming, “This is my city!”
“I’ve said that before. I’ve done that in the past. Just emotion,” Wall said after scoring a game-high 33 points with six assists. “It was a win we needed. It was like a playoff game.”
Wall’s effort was almost in vain until a pair of aging reserves — Gooden in particular — provided a much-needed lift in the fourth quarter. The Wizards have every intention of keeping Gooden for the remainder of the season after his second 10-day contract expires Tuesday, and he certainly has exceeded any expectations after being buried in Milwaukee last season before getting waived in July.
The 32-year-old Gooden scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, burying a go-ahead three-pointer with 2 minutes 37 seconds remaining to give the Wizards the lead for good.
“You always joke about me being old, but I’m still Drew Gooden. That’s what I do. Once I see a couple go in, I can’t miss,” said Gooden, a 12-year veteran who was working out on his own in Montgomery County when the Wizards reached out to him.
Gooden and Harrington didn’t play much in an overtime victory in Orlando on Friday, but they were motivated to contribute on a night when starters Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Booker struggled offensively.
Bradley Beal started despite spraining his right ankle and being carried off the court by teammates in Orlando. Beal determined he was fit to go after warming up about 90 minutes before the game and didn’t appear to be hampered at all when he made his first two attempts from three-point range. His shooting cooled, however, and he missed 8 of his 14 shots to finish with 15 points.
Wall exhausted almost every ounce of energy trying to get his teammates into the game in the third quarter, when he made three three-pointers, drew a charge on Deron Williams and hurdled the Wizards’ bench, splitting assistants Don Zierden and Don Newman before crashing into Ryan Saunders in an attempt to save a loose ball. Saunders injured his left arm in the collision.
“Ryan, our assistant coach’s arm is messed up,” Wall said afterward. “I was fine. I landed on top of him, so I was cool.”
Wall scored 15 of the Wizards’ 24 points in the period, but the team still trailed by seven at the start of the fourth. The Wizards didn’t start rolling until the 34-year-old Harrington soared in to catch a Beal miss and jammed it. Harrington added a nifty spin move and reverse layup. He then stole the ball to set up a possession on which Beal made a layup that brought them within 84-81.
Gooden took over from there, hitting a jumper, taking a pass from Andre Miller for a layup and then burying another long baseline jumper to give the Wizards an 87-86 lead. Harrington scored just six points, but he left to a standing ovation with the game tied at 92.
“That felt good,” Harrington said of the ovation. “Just gave the team a jolt of energy. That’s what the playoffs are going to be about, coming out with timely possessions. You get a steal, a block, a foul here just to stop their momentum or swing it our way.”
Nets forward Paul Pierce (15 points) made two free throws to give his team a 94-92 lead, but Gooden scored the next five points. Ariza then scrapped for an offensive rebound and made a layup to secure the win.
The Wizards won the first two games of the series, taking advantage of the Nets’ early chemistry problems and Jason Kidd’s rookie coaching inexperience. But owning the tiebreaker won’t matter much if they finish with an inferior record. The Nets (33-31) have had the best record in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1 at 23-10 and arrived in Washington on a three-game winning streak, including an impressive road victory Wednesday against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Brooklyn, however, was held without a field goal for the final 6:22.
“The longer we go here, the more games are going to feel like that,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I thought the fans in the building were electric all night, which was good. Our guys played off of that, and it was an intense game. We didn’t take any shortcuts. Tired wasn’t a word in the vocabulary.”