With five of the Washington Wizards’ (26-44) sidelined for the start of Monday night’s game, the Memphis Grizzlies (47-23) were all but guaranteed their first road win in four away contests. But, as has been the case repeatedly this year, when the Wizards are outmatched, hurting or some unfortunate combination of the two, they tend to muster inexplicable strength – and, more often than not, it stems from John Wall.
In case anyone on the Wizards’ roster had held a grudge against Wall for his ejection Saturday night against Golden State, he more than made up for it Monday night at the Verizon Center in the Wizards’ 107-94 win over the Grizzlies.
To put things into perspective, prior to the Washington-Memphis match-up, John Wall’s season high was just 29 points – recorded not ten days ago against the New Orleans Hornets. Monday night, however, Wall nearly added another 20 points to it as he posted a career-high 47 total against the Grizzlies.
“John was incredible,” Wizards head coach Randy Wittman said after the game. “ I’ve witnessed a lot of games, I’ve played with some pretty good players, I’ve coached some pretty good players. That was an incredible performance for him. We jumped on it and he carried us.”
It goes without saying that this year has tested the patience of Wizards fans everywhere, yet, those who have held on in these seemingly insignificant contests have been rewarded – if with nothing else – by Wall’s rapid improvement since his return from injury on Jan. 12.
Wall, who has admittedly struggled with nailing down his jumpers, shot 13-of-22 from the field Monday and sank two of four three-point attempts. He also added seven rebounds, eight assists a block and a steal as Washington put a stop on the Grizzlies.
“I think [Wall’s] showing you right now what he can be,” Wittman said. “It’s just a matter of a consistency thing. He’s been playing at a very high, consistent level for the last couple weeks. You don’t really understand what he went through this year. It’s tough. It’s tough to sit for three and a half months and not do anything. And then I get him, the doctor says I can play him and I throw him to the wolves. Everybody goes, ‘Why is he up and down?’ It’s hard. I had to be patient, too. I had to make sure he was patient.”
The Wizards had already lost Bradley Beal (left ankle sprain) and A.J. Price (groin) to injuries. Prior to the game, Wittman announced that Martell Webster (abdomen) and Nene (right knee soreness) would also sit and, even more, Trevor Ariza was sidelined with the flu.
Somehow, despite Wall’s absolute dominance throughout the game, Emeka Okafor managed to notch 21 points by his own accord, and Chris Singleton rounded out the double-digit club for the Wizards by adding 10.
While it should come as little surprise that Wall was the one who rose to the occasion, his rout provided a reminder of what may have been this season had the 22-year-old been healthy throughout.
“A lot of things [have been] written about him, a lot of question marks,” Wittman said. “A lot of people on the outside [were] saying things, and I give the kid a lot of credit. He took it like a duck with water going down his back. He went into that gym and he worked and he worked and he worked to where he got himself better. He’s just now getting into basketball shape. The work that he did all summer leading up to his injury in September is starting to pay off and he’s continuing to do that work now. He’s 22. I think we’re beginning to see who John Wall can be.”
Washington took an early lead in the first quarter. In fact it took Wall just seven and a half minutes to reach 10 points and help the Wizards to a 19-10 lead.
The Grizzlies’ Jerryd Bayless helped himself to a pair of baskets in the final 90 seconds of the quarter, however, and Memphis pulled back within two as the Wizards entered the second quarter up just 26-24.
Austin Daye and Quincy Pondexter knocked in back-to-back three-pointers and Zach Randolph added a jumper of his own to swing the game into the Grizzlies’ favor by the score of 32-26.
But, if anyone in Memphis had banked on a Wall slowdown, they likely tossed out that notion before the half. Wall’s 26-footer with 4:11 remaining pulled Washington back within three, down 46-43. Emeka Okafor added four points and Trevor Booker made a basket to trim the margin even more with Washington trailing 50-49.
Wall added three of four free throws and another basket to the Wizards’ efforts and the two teams broke even with 55 points apiece at the half.
Washington started the third quarter on an 8-0 run before Ed Davis’s free throws and Tayshaun Prince’s jumper nearly erased their progress.
Quincy Pondexter sank a three with 6:13 remaining and the Wizards were slow to regain their ground.
In fact, the Grizzlies caught them first.
With the help of six free throws, the Grizzlies finished off the third within two points of catching the Wizards, who clung to a 76-74 lead at the buzzer.
Wall found the net on a toss from Jan Vesely and his two follow-up free throws put Washington up 80-76.
From there, Wall helped the Wizards clinch their sixth straight home victory by tallying eight free throws towards their 107-94 final.
“I’m just trying to come out here and play with the same confidence I’ve been playing with,” Wall said after the game. “My shot was going in, my teammates did a great job of getting me open and I was just getting fouls and getting to the free throw line. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates though, they stepped up—Emeka [Okafor] had 21 and Cartier [Martin] made big shots.”