Two things happened last night for the Washington Wizards that had not happened all season -- and both of them were good. First, point guard John Wall made his season debut after missing the first 33 games of the season with a stress injury to his knee. Second, the Wizards finally won back-to-back games, the last NBA team to do so this season.
The Wizards downed the Atlanta Hawks, who came into the game 21-14 and winners of their three previous games against the Wiz this season, 93-83 behind some solid team defense and balanced scoring. Wall entered the game to a standing ovation midway through the second quarter and quickly went to work, bricking a bad shot off the front of the rim. Wall admitted to having some "jiggly legs" and it showed in the second quarter and much of the third, as well, before he crossed up Devin Harris on a drive and made a running bank shot and drew a foul at the end of the third. From then on, Wall looked like a different player.
Wall sat to start the fourth quarter, but with 6 minutes and 15 seconds left in regulation and the Wiz holding an eight point lead, he re-entered the game for starter AJ Price. The Hawks immediately got closer as Wall had a shot blocked and Nene got flagged for an offensive foul and then committed a turnover.
With the Hawks coming back and the Wiz seemingly starting to fade, Wall embarrassed Jeff Teague by blowing past him on consecutive possessions, ending them both with layups that built Washington's lead back up to eight and then ten points. To anyone who has watched the Wizards this season and witnessed how rare a fourth quarter layup is, the sight was a revelation. The speed, athleticism and ability to finish at the basket that no one on the team has apart from John Wall has been missing along with, well, John Wall.
The Wizards dropped two of the three games they lost to Atlanta this season because they could not execute their offense down the stretch and the Hawks took advantage by pushing the games into overtime and finishing the job during the extra play. Wall would not permit that last night, repeatedly keeping the ball and using his athleticism to get to the bucket in the final minutes to ensure a victory in regulation.
Wall's "jiggly legs" and early rust showed in some missed shots and three turnovers, but he rallied to hit 5 of 11 from the floor and 4 of 5 from the line for 14 points. He added 4 assists and 4 rebounds to his stat line. He played just under 21 minutes in the game.
Washington led most of the way, taking advantage of some good defense and bad Hawks shooting to claim a 27-17 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Hawks came storming back in the second period, though, thanks to some Wizards turnovers and missed opportunities on offense. At halftime the score was 51-50, the Wiz clinging to the narrowest of leads. Strong play in the second half, though, particularly after Wall came back into the game in the third and fourth quarters, enabled Washington to escape with a solid 10-point win in front of a delighted home crowd at the Phone Booth. Washington's final bucket of the night was a beautiful fast break with Wall leading the charge before dishing behind his back to Trevor Ariza for the uncontested dunk. Sights like that haven't been seen since Wall last suited up in April 2012. It was good to have him back.
Wall's teammates did help him out some. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal scored 16 points on 16 shots, including a nice 3-pointer off a dish from Wall. In fact, Wall's first three assists all went to Beal, an encouraging sign for the future. Starting ahead of Wall, AJ Price scored 16 points on 12 shots, Emaka Okafor added 10 points and 10 rebounds and Nene, starting and healthy again, chipped in with 8 points and 10 boards. Quick forward Martell Webster added 15 points on 10 shots. Not helping so much was Jan Vesely, who didn't score, but did manage to commit five fouls in less than five minutes on the court.
Kevin Seraphin played his usual inefficient game, scoring 8 points on 10 shots, never getting to the line, and committing three turnovers and four personal fouls in 31:34 minutes of court time. Former Hawk Jordan Crawford sat out with an injury.
The Wizards held the Hawks to 38.5% shooting from the field and 29% from the line. Atlanta helped out by missing 9 of their 25 free throws and allowing the Wizards to trounce them 51-38 on the boards, including 12-6 on the offensive glass. Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 19 points, but he had a -9 court ratio and couldn't stop Wall when it mattered in the fourth quarter.
WIZARDS 6-28 overall, 1-0 with John Wall.