The Washington Wizards (13-35) fought tooth and nail to slow down Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks (31-16) Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, and their efforts paid off with a 106-96 win that snapped New York’s five-game winning streak.
Washington may have fell short of slowing Anthony – he posted 31 points and nine rebounds on the night. But, they did their part to counteract him.
Six Wizards reached double-digit points against the Atlantic Division-leading Knicks. John Wall led the charge with 21 points, five rebounds and nine assists. Martell Webster – who put up 19 points and two boards – contributed five three-pointers, along with Trevor Ariza.
The Wizards seemingly put on one of their best performances of the season in front of a home crowd comprised mostly of Knicks fans. The crowd did, however, feature its fair share of celebrities, including Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, Kentucky Coach John Calipari and several of the Washington Redskins.
Perhaps more importantly, for those Wizards fans who stuck it out amidst persistent heckling from Knicks fans in their own house, Washington pulled through.
The Wizards got things started early with a 7-0 run sparked by Emeka Okafor’s fadeaway jumper and reverse layup.
Up 14-5 just three minutes and 30 seconds into the game, Wall laid down a block on Anthony, spun and darted with the ball for the layup to expand Washington’s lead.
It took almost no time for the Knicks to answer, however. Raymond Felton found the net from 27 feet away, Tyson Chandler posted a layup and Anthony put up another three to pull within three points of catching the Wizards. Then, Felton sank a layup before Garrett Temple’s turnover forced Washington to call a timeout, with the Wizards up just 16-15.
“As I told the team, that’s what a quality NBA game is made up of,” Wizards head coach Randy Wittman said after the game. “What we had [were] instances where we played very well, and then [the Knicks] would come back for us and play very well. We had instances where we just didn’t put our heads down – and this is a team that it is easy to do that against, with as many threes as they take and as hard as it is to cover Carmelo [Anthony]…difficult shots that go in but our guys stayed with it the whole time.”
The Wizards held their own until Amar’e Stoudemire sank a layup and-1 to tie the game at 18 points apiece. Washington lingered just a step behind the Knicks until Ariza tied the game again from three-point territory early in the second quarter.
Still, the Wizards seemed stuck on the Knicks’ heels, no matter what tactics they employed.
Sooner than later, it became evident that the Wizards’ strategy – whether intentional or not – revolved around three-pointers. In fact, their comeback late in the second quarter centered on three of them – two by Ariza and one by Okafor. By the end of the night, Washington made 11 of 20 three-point attempts, compared with New York’s nine of 28.
“You have to make shots against this team, there is no question about that,” Wittman said. “This is a team that’s going to collapse when they go big with Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. They protect the rim. And obviously when John Wall penetrates, and a couple of guys for that matter, you have to kick the ball out and then knock the shot down.”
The Knicks seemed more than aware that the Wizards could not be counted out without a battle. Tensions began to reach the surface with little more than two minutes remaining in the first half, when Wall exchanged words with Stoudemire, who brushed up against Wall. Wall pushed back, Stoudemire gave a shove and teammates stepped in to cool things down. Wall and Stoudemire were handed offsetting technical fouls, which seemed enough to eliminate the possibility for further chippiness on the court.
Nevertheless, the Wizards entered halftime clinging to a 51-48 lead.
Regardless of how unbalanced the Knicks-to-Wizards-fans ratio may have been, the 18,263 present at the Verizon Center Wednesday night were treated to top-notch basketball throughout the second half.
The Wizards were up by as many as nine points in the third quarter, but Washington seemed confused – and slow – on defense. A number of awkward matchups came to light – including Nene versus Iman Shupert, in which Nene fell short on a few occasions.
With 1:13 remaining in the third quarter, A.J. Price turned the ball over to Raymond Felton, who dished to Anthony in time for New York to pull out in front, 73-68.
After three, the Wizards remained in it to win it, trailing just 73-70.
Just 20 seconds into the final quarter, Ariza drew a three-and-1 on a shooting foul by Anthony. Wall then added padding to Washington’s lead with a two-point shot before Chris Singleton, of all people, sank two shots in a row.
By the end of the night, Singleton saw more than 33 minutes of action – and tallied 10 points and three rebounds against New York.
“Chris is doing a great job,” Wall said after the game. “He came back in San Antonio, finally got some minutes in, and ever since then, he’s been playing good at the four position for us.”
“We are starting to gel,” Okafor added. “With a healthy team we can play. We have enough games so everyone knows everyone’s tendencies. When we get in a flow like that we can just feel the energy. All of us are clicking. Everyone is helping on offense and defense and the guards did an excellent job shooting.”
Singleton and Ariza added back-to-back three-pointers later in the quarter to silence the Knicks fans who had been chanting “De-fense!” against the Wizards. The two shots from behind the arc also put the Wizards in front 88-80 with 8:30 remaining in regulation.
With the Wizards up 91-84 and little more than six minutes left, Nene jammed in a celebratory dunk to keep Washington’s lead at seven points. Stoudemire responded with two free throws, but the Knicks’ ability to chip away at the Wizards’ lead had disappeared.
After Webster sank his fifth three-pointer of the night and Wall tallied another free throw, the Wizards closed the book on Wednesday night’s matchup with a brag-worthy 106-96 win over the Knicks at home.
“Since we’ve been winning the fans have been coming out to support us a little bit more than they had earlier in the season,” Ariza said. “This is home. We try to do our best to protect it.”
Alyssa Wolice is a Contributor to District Sports Page. An American University alum, Alyssa worked as a political blogger and financial reporter before making the switch to sports journalism. As a former production assistant, she covered the Nationals, Redskins, Capitals, Wizards, D.C. United and local collegiate teams. A New Jersey native, Alyssa currently serves as a community and sports reporter for a number of small-town newspapers in her home state and works full-time as a marketing communications specialist with a trade association based in Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter @awolice.