CLEVELAND — John Wall returned to the lineup Saturday night, but so did his lingering and troubling left heel injury.
As the Washington Wizards mailed in a 116-101 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers — looking like a disengaged, fatigued group despite enjoying consecutive days off while the Cavaliers played the second night of a back-to-back home set — Wall was a noticeable non-factor.
Wall missed every shot he attempted and, for the first time in his nine-year career, finished with one point. That point came at the 7:47 mark of the third quarter when he made the second of two free throw attempts. Afterward, Wall sat in front of his locker stall and used a vibration massage device on the back of his left leg.
“It’s just like a bone spur,” said Wall, who shared that he has dealt with the same ailment sporadically this season and in the past. “I probably shouldn’t have played. That’s my fault. But you learn from your mistakes.”
With 3:26 remaining in the third quarter, Wall left the floor for the final time after playing 26 minutes. Cleveland rookie point guard Collin Sexton had just nailed a transition three-pointer to lift his team to an 80-65 lead, not the team’s largest but indicative of double-digit cushion the Cavaliers held throughout most of the contest.
As Coach Scott Brooks called a timeout, Wall dabbed sweat with the hem of his jersey and strolled off the court. His line at that moment: one point, 0 for 5 from the field with three misses from behind the three-point arc, six assists and a minus-14.
“I didn’t have to look at it. I already knew it without looking at it. First game of my life,” Wall said about his statistics. “Worst game of my life. One free throw. No field goals.”
Though Wall recently welcomed his newborn son, which caused him to miss the team’s previous road win and Friday practice, he said he was not struggling with exhaustion. While he was away from the team, he continued to work out on an anti-gravity treadmill. When he rejoined the Wizards, however, Wall was considered a game-time decision to play against Cleveland — described as “under the weather” by Brooks.
Wall spent much of the pregame inside the visitors’ locker room lying flat on his stomach while getting his legs treated by Jesse Phillips, the team’s director of player performance and rehabilitation. Although Wall felt the heel had loosened up enough to give it a go, as he looked back over the night while massaging the area, he realized the injury impacted his game.
“I really couldn’t move, couldn’t run. But I mean, you still got to play better,” Wall said.
Before the game, Brooks heaped praise on Wall’s counterpart, Sexton.
When asked by a reporter what he liked about Sexton’s game, Brooks called him talented and aggressive. The adjectives were not unusual — coaches usually share friendly and sometimes banal admiration for opponents. But Sexton proved Brooks’s words true in the matchup against Wall, tying a career high with 29 points to go with six assists.
“Tonight, John was on cruise control. I know he has an off-court situation, but he’s definitely going to get back on track. I know he’s due for a big game next game,” Sexton said. “You can tell a little bit. That’s John. John’s a pretty quiet guy when he’s out there, but he’s going to go at you, so tonight I didn’t really know what was going to happen, so I had to make sure I was aware.”
While the Cavaliers smashed the game open with a 29-4 run that started in the first quarter and didn’t end until midway through the second, Sexton scored easily in the paint and located his teammates for open shots. Sexton scored three layups in the opening quarter and added another in the second quarter, including a wide-open back cut that left Wall lingering on the perimeter.
Although Wall sat out the fourth quarter and the Wizards continued their normal and ineffective switches on screens on defense, Wall had many possessions on which he was the responsible defender against Sexton. At the 7:55 mark of the second quarter, Sexton pulled the Cavaliers ahead by 21 by getting around a screen and pulling up for a midrange jumper in front of Wall. Later, Sexton lost Wall on the dribble and dropped a pass to Tristan Thompson for a 23-point lead. Cleveland eventually pushed its margin to 29.
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 27 points on 12-for-25 shooting. Otto Porter Jr. started hot and finished with 15 points (6 for 10 from the field), and Jeff Green scored 17 off the bench.
The loss snapped the Wizards’ three-game winning streak and dropped them to 11-15. The Wizards, however, have a more pressing concern: Just how much will the left heel bone spur limit their all-star point guard?
“Some days it’s great. Some days it’s bad. It come and go. You know what I mean? You just got to monitor when it’s good and when it’s bad, don’t try to force the issue and play with that one because it’s kind of hard. You can’t run,” Wall said. “Today it just got real hot. It didn’t get no better.”