By the time John Wall smacked New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert’s layup attempt into the first row and angrily cursed, most of the orange-and-blue clad supporters had already trickled out of Verizon Center, leaving the Washington Wizards and their fans to celebrate an impressive, 98-89 victory.
Wall wants the Wizards to establish themselves as a dominant home team, but they had a difficult challenge Saturday with so many in the building rooting against them. Whenever a Knicks player scored, cheers filled the arena, making it hard to distinguish which team was actually at home. Though the Wizards probably didn’t convert any New York fans, they had no problem throttling the reeling Knicks.
Wall led the charge by scoring 31 points with seven assists, four rebounds and an emphatic block on Shumpert in the final seconds that brought Wizards fans to their feet and sent a clear statement about the true tenants.
“I’m sitting there like, ‘This is amazing,’ ” Wall said of the overwhelming sea of Knicks fans. “We’re trying to change that, so it don’t happen at all. We can’t control it. It’s great we’ve got some fans on our side.”
The Wizards (5-8) might have a few more now that they have won three of their past four and snapped a two-game losing streak against the Knicks, who have lost five in a row. Washington again had a poor effort from its bench — which contributed only six points as Coach Randy Wittman used just eight players — but the starters more than carried the load.
Despite playing a fourth game in five nights, Wall wasn’t lacking for speed or energy. Picking up where he left off Friday night in Toronto — when he scored a season-high 37 points — Wall kept finding the cracks in the Knicks defense and repeatedly attacked the rim. He also coolly dropped jumpers from the right elbow.
Wall made his first seven field goals and scored 19 points in the first half. He has scored at least 30 point in consecutive games for the first time in his career and has shot 25 of 39 his past two games. In his previous four games, Wall combined to make 19 of 65 shots and scored a total of 52.
“John backed up [Friday’s] game with a really good game for him,” Wittman said. “Takes what defense gives him is the prime thing he needs to do. He can do it scoring 31. He can do it scoring 10 and having 16 assists. That’s the balance.”
Wall was upset that his performance against the Raptors came in a loss, but he had considerable help Saturday night to claim a win. Center Marcin Gortat and guard Bradley Beal both were seeking to bounce back from poor games in Toronto. Gortat missed his first three shots against the Knicks, but Wall found him racing down the court and flipped a no-look pass to the big man for a fast-break dunk near the end of the first quarter.
Afterward, Gortat started playing more aggressively on both ends of the floor and finished with 16 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, with seven of his boards coming off the offensive glass. Wizards fans showed their appreciation in the fourth quarter by serenading him at the foul line with chants of “MVP!”
“I didn’t hear that,” Gortat said with a laugh. “I had anger after last game. like I said before, I had that feeling where I lost my offensive rhythm a few games ago. Basically, I didn’t sleep too much the last night. I tried to come back and focus on the game. I’m happy I was able to help the team.”
Beal, meantime, vowed that he would make up for a poor shooting performance in Toronto and had a solid game with 18 points and six assists, the highlight coming when he found a streaking Jan Vesely for an uncontested dunk to give the Wizards an 89-80 lead.
“I saw Bradley going one-on-three and then he just turned around and I was right there wide open, so I was really surprised on that dunk.” The dunk accounted for all of Vesely’s scoring, but he added five rebounds off the bench.
Martell Webster matched his season high with five three-pointers, connecting on two huge shots from long distance that allowed the Wizards to push an 81-78 lead up to seven in the fourth quarter. The Knicks got within 89-83, but Wall answered with his only three-pointer and then Beal extended the lead to 95-86 with a long jumper.
“Whenever we play some of those high-caliber teams that have superstars on the team, it’s usually an away game for us at home. But we love it,” Webster said. “We love that atmosphere because it gives us a chance to shut up those fans.”
Carmelo Anthony had 23 points to lead the Knicks (3-9), who have fallen well short of expectations and are struggling in the absence of point guard Raymond Felton and big man Tyson Chandler. They led for most of the first half, going ahead 50-41 when Anthony made a reverse layup with 2 minutes 43 seconds left in the second quarter. The Wizards took control in the third quarter, outscoring the Knicks 27-17, with Gortat helping to put the clamps on the defensive end and with Wall directing traffic on offense.
Late in the third quarter, a collection of Knicks fans attempted to turn the arena in Madison Square Garden South by chanting, “Let's Go Knicks.” Wizards fans countered with boos and by the fourth quarter, a group of Wizards fans taunted Anthony at the free throw line with chants of “Overrated.”
The Wizards are now 3-2 at home and have won two straight at Verizon. They can expect another divided home crowd Tuesday, when they host the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We already know how it’s going to be,” Wall said with a laugh.