With confetti and streamers cascading from the rafters, John Wall walked up to Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Kyrie Irving and gave him a hug after playing the first of what should be many highly competitive games between the past two No. 1 overall picks.
Wall and Irving had never gone one-on-one before and the Washington Wizards’ 101-98 victory on Saturday at Verizon Center will be remembered for the cat-quick point guards providing several dazzling plays — and some critical missed free throws in the closing seconds. Wall won the individual duel, outscoring Irving, 24-20, but more importantly, he helped the Wizards (8-28) snap a six-game losing streak.
“Both of those guys are super talented,” Roger Mason Jr. said after scoring 11 points. “They’re the future of this league at the point guard position so they’re going to be battling. You’re going to see that battle for a long time.”
But the contest was also about reunions, returns and, perhaps, a little revenge. Antawn Jamison hadn’t played in Washington since he was traded to Cleveland more than two years ago, when the Cavaliers still had LeBron James. Jamison finished with a team-high 29 points, scoring in his usual unorthodox fashion. But he went scoreless in the fourth quarter, missing a wide open three-pointer late in the game.
Andray Blatche hadn’t played since Jan. 28 because of a strained left calf muscle, but he overcame some noticeable rust and some boos from the crowd to provide nine rebounds and five assists in 22 minutes. He missed all three of his shots, including an air ball in the third quarter, and finished with just one point.
“I didn’t want to come out there and force nothing,” Blatche said. “Just play the game and try to help my teammates win and do the small things like hustle and rebounds and set other players up. That’s what I do.”
But for all of the story lines going into the game, Jordan Crawford forced the spotlight his way, as he finished with a game-high 31 points — including 12 in the fourth quarter — and matched his career-high with five three-pointers.
“It was big. Six-game losing streak; we needed to end it,” Crawford said.
JaVale McGee also returned to the starting lineup after he had been benched for the second half of Tuesday’s loss in Milwaukee and the start of the Wizards’ 102-95 loss to Orlando on Wednesday. McGee, who expressed some confusion over his benching, responded with nine points and 12 rebounds but he also managed to provide a head-scratching moment, dribbling the length of the court on a wild one-man fast break, fumbling the ball out of bounds and colliding into Cavaliers center Ryan Hollins.
Fans responded with boos. “Cigarette smoking is a tough habit to beat,” Coach Randy Wittman said with a laugh about McGee’s dribbling escapade.
Wall later showed McGee how to do it at the end of the third quarter, when he went from end-to-end, past Ramon Sessions and Jamison, in just 3.9 seconds to make a layup that tied the game at 78. “I was just showing my track speed,” Wall said with a grin.
In the fourth, Wall stole the ball from Irving near midcourt, and passed it ahead to McGee. McGee dribbled, then slowed down and passed the ball to Crawford for a dunk that gave the Wizards a 94-86 lead. Booker followed with a baseline jumper that extended the lead to 10 with 3 minutes 44 seconds remaining, but the Wizards couldn’t hold on as the Cavaliers buried back-to-back three-pointers to get within 96-92 in just 79 seconds.
“This was a game we made harder than we should’ve, but that’s the learning process,” Wittman said. “It wasn’t pretty. We’ll take that any way we can.”
Wall and Irving, the favorite to win rookie of the year, were teammates at the Rising Star Challenge last week in Orlando, with Wall backing up Irving. Irving had sat out the previous game against Chicago with the flu, but Cleveland Coach Byron Scott said before the game that Irving told him that he was fine and able to play.
As if on cue, Irving grabbed a seat on a service cart about 50 feet away and playfully blew the horn, upsetting the security guards standing nearby.
Wall made a jumper to start the game and also provided the highlight of the night when he made a behind-the-back dribble to split a double-team and fed Jan Vesely (nine points, five rebounds) for a dunk. Irving played with poise and scored 12 points in the fourth quarter. But with the Cavaliers trailing by three points in the final seconds, he drove and was fouled. Wall provided a critical block on the shot attempt, especially after Irving missed the second free throw attempt to make the score 100-98.
Wall was fouled on the other end, but he missed one of two free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining and was smarting until Parker missed an off-balance three-point attempt with time expiring and Vesely corralled the rebound.
“You don’t want to miss free throws in those situations,” Wall said. “If you’re going to be a point guard and be a leader you want the ball in your hands. You have to make those types of shots. I was upset.”
But certainly not after the game.