By Charlie Gibson
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Last night was fun. John Wall had his second career 40-point game, Verizon Center was full for once, and Steph Curry had to play the 4th quarter. Basketball fans around the country tuned in to see Steph score 51 (11 made threes, 25 points in the first quarter), and they stayed to see Wall and the Wizards cut a 17-point first half deficit to two. Garrett Temple missed a 3-pointer in the third quarter that would have given the Wizards the lead. They had it as close as seven late in the fourth, but ultimately lost 134-121.
The Wizards, now 2-7 in their last 9, were nice enough not to share their depressing season during their first ESPN game. Instead John Wall came out with some of the most passion we’ve seen from him all season, and his team responded by running with him, rotating like mad, diving for loose balls, and hitting big shots.
John Wall took 25 shots (including 13 at the rim), as he became the fourth player this season to drop 40pts/10ast—along with Harden (3 times), Westbrook, and Lillard. He yelled at the refs, chit-chatted with Curry, hustled to help teammates off the ground, dapped them up after mistakes, and argued with Eye-Patch Newman to leave him in with four fouls in the third. This came after Wall had averaged 15 ppg without scoring 20 in his previous seven games, and the team hit a low point last week losing to Denver.
So yes, we’re back at a place where we can enjoy moral victories. Isn’t that fun? It’s 2013 again! Can the team use the positive energy from last night as a springboard to better play? If it woke John Wall up, and the team is encouraged by spending 2 ½ hours on national television without behaving like underachievers, then they could easily win their next four games against the Sixers, Hornets, Knicks, and Bucks.
The team has a much easier schedule remaining than they’ve had so far, and are 3.5 games out of the 8-seed with 35 to play. Last night may have been a momentum changer. Or Golden State may have let it’s foot off the gas against a weak opponent and allowed another star point guard to have a big game in a losing effort (they’ve also allowed 41 points to Kyle Lowry and 40 to Damian Lillard).
Either way, even at 21-26, the Wizards will play this season out. As much as I am a fan of tanking and the optimism that comes with an unknown draft pick, it is too much fun watching John Wall compete. Management values winning-culture, and three years ago the Basketball Gods rewarded the team’s “battle for the 9-seed” by jumping the Wizards to number three in the lottery. The back end of the lottery is less predictable, and honestly I would prefer a drubbing by Cleveland—the Celtics fate last year—to a 1% chance at Ben Simmons (see Ryan’s write up on Simmons here).
Last night was a reminder what the Wizards are capable of. Every time the Warriors made a big play the Wiz would race the ball down the court and score before the crowd even stopped reacting. Gortat and Nene were both efficient as they shared the Center position, and Newman threw a bunch of different looks at the Wars to keep the Wiz from stagnating. Brad Beal, not efficient last night (1-7 from three), has been efficient coming off the bench since he returned from injury. He has shot 48.6% while only playing 24 minutes a game (extra low because he left one early) through nine games off the bench so far.
If the Wizards let this momentum slip away—like they usually do—then they might not get another chance. They need a good ten-game run here to get back into things, and time is short. They can’t do anything if they don’t improve their defense, and, frankly, their shaken confidence. Hopefully their good showing can help a little bit with the latter.