Frances Pulley was once a fixture at Washington Wizards home games, waiting in the hallways of Verizon Center afterward to greet her son, John Wall. But those visits had become far less frequent as she dealt with migraine headaches and made fewer drives up from Raleigh, N.C.
But on Sunday afternoon, Pulley was in attendance for the first time in more than a month to witness her son give one of his most thrilling performances of the season, as Wall scored 26 points — including back-to-back clutch jumpers in the final 82 seconds — in leading the Wizards to a dramatic 98-92 comeback victory over the New Jersey Nets. Afterward, Pulley was back in her trusty spot in front of the Wizards’ locker room, waiting for her grinning son to pass her by, high-fiving fans and shouting: “Good win! Good win!”
“Whenever my mom comes, I always try to play good,” said Wall, who added 6 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals. “I try to play good, no matter if she’s here or not, but it’s better to see her in the stands and see her jumping up and down.”
Wall and the Wizards gave Pulley and weary fans plenty to get excited about after falling behind by 17 points in the first half against a Nets team that was missing newly acquired franchise point guard Deron Williams. And, for a Wizards team missing its two leading scorers in Nick Young and Andray Blatche and two veterans in Rashard Lewis and Josh Howard, it will take a victory in any form — especially with it snapping a six-game losing streak and with a five-game Western Conference trip beginning Tuesday in Portland.
“We came back, and we were resilient today,” Maurice Evans said after scoring 15 points off the bench. “Obviously, we’re kind of short on guys. We’re short-handed, but we’re still fighting, and I’m proud of the guys’ effort.”
The Wizards (17-51) trailed 56-39 with 1 minute 23 seconds left in the second period, but they were able to turn around the game through some stifling defense and hustle, as they outscored the Nets 30-10 over the next 12 minutes, taking a three-point lead when Jordan Crawford was fouled as he made a driving left-handed layup and converted the free throw.
Crawford finished with 21 points as he scored at least 20 for the third game in row, starting in place of the injured Young, and he also had a huge steal during the run to set up a JaVale McGee (16 points) layup and got a nice block on Anthony Morrow to help the Wizards hold the Nets to just 27 percent shooting (4 for 15) in the third period.
The Wizards led 77-70 before the Nets came back to tie the score. Jordan Farmar (career-high 17 assists) found Kris Humphries (18 points, 17 rebounds) for an alley-oop dunk that evened the score at 90 with 1:44 remaining.
Teams have been daring Wall to take midrange jumpers all season, but the No. 1 overall pick has often been hesitant to take them. But with most of the Wizards’ best offensive options waving towels on the bench, Wall stared down Brook Lopez and buried an 18-foot jumper over him to put his team ahead for good.
Then, Wall stepped in front of Nets forward Damion James to intercept a pass before he was fouled by Farmar. James attempted to defend Wall on the other end, but Wall did a stutter-step juke dribble to get separation and then knocked down a 19-foot jumper over him. Wall then ran down the court, flexed for the crowd, and popped the front of his jersey to display “Wizards” across his chest.
“One thing about John, we’ve lost some games where he’s tried to make some plays and he hasn’t made them, but he’s not afraid to,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “I think, if you want to be a great player in this league, you can’t be afraid to take the ball in your hands and try to make a play. You gotta know that failure, a lot of times, comes as much as success but you’ve got to keep on doing it. We put the ball in his hands and he made shots, he made assists, he made plays.”
Yi Jianlian followed up Wall’s heroics by stepping in front of Farmar to deflect a pass and get a steal. Yi then stepped to the line to hit two free throws to ensure that the Wizards got their first season series win (2-1) against any opponent. Yi was pleased that it came against the team that dumped him, along with $3 million, on the Wizards last summer in a cost-cutting trade. “For me, it feels good to beat them.”
For Wall, it felt good to beat anyone — and it didn’t hurt that his biggest fan was in the crowd. “Any win we’ve actually been getting this year so far has been good for us,” he said. “We’ve had ups and downs and been on a real long losing streak. The coaches yelled at us at halftime, told us to come out and play hard. Jordan and them just told me to keep going and I was making my shots, so they just kept giving me the ball, and I willed us to the win.”