Wall takes over in third quar­ter, lifts Wizards to win in Game 1.

Wall takes over in third quar­ter, lifts Wizards to win in Game 1

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TODD DYBAS

It seems an im­pos­si­ble lean with an im­prob­a­ble an­gle at full speed. John Wall had just spun him­self in a cir­cle to avoid mul­ti­ple de­fend­ers dur­ing an early third quar­ter sprint into the lane. By the time he was done re­volv­ing, Wall was tilted onto one leg in the paint, sur­rounded by At­lanta de­fend­ers and gath­er­ing the might to zip the ball out to­ward the 3-point line where Otto Porter stood free and avail­able.

Much of Porter’s fu­ture wealth has been de­ter­mined by these types of passes from Wall. Wide open, he pointed his feet, raised his el­bow and re­leased the three-pointer. Af­ter it went through the net, Wash­ing­ton had re­gained the lead. Wall’s takeover of the day was un­der­way.

His blitz lasted an­other 10 min­utes. Wall re­placed the ug­li­ness of the first half with artistry in the third quar­ter dur­ing Wash­ing­ton’s 114-107 Game 1 win against the At­lanta Hawks on Sun­day af­ter­noon in Ver­i­zon Center. He re­de­fined the game in those 12 min­utes when he scored 15 of his post­sea­son-ca­reer-high 32 points, pro­vided four as­sists and even col­lected three re­bounds. At one point dur­ing his un­dress­ing of the Hawks to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven se­ries, Wall pointed to­ward the floor while the crowd bel­lowed.

“This is my house,” Wall said then and later.

It has be­come just that in the last four years. Wall has been to the All-Star Game each sea­son, and each year he is the team’s lone rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Fol­low­ing

two off­sea­son knee surg­eries last sum­mer, Wall has put to­gether his best sea­son since en­ter­ing the league as a danc­ing No. 1 over­all pick in 2010. Ev­ery­thing is bet­ter. His scor­ing has im­proved, his un­der­stand­ing of de­fenses has grown, even his press con­fer­ences are smoother since he has slowed his dic­tion.

At the postgame podium Sun­day, he sat in a fold­ing chair with his al­ways-on­him black sun­glasses tucked in a pocket. He looked like a mem­ber of the kids’ table — were that kid wear­ing a vested suit — at a hol­i­day gath­er­ing since the low chairs shrunk his frame. But it was clear who was run­ning the op­er­a­tion. De­par­tures of vet­er­ans and growth of his own into that la­bel now make the Wizards Wall’s show more than ever. It was ev­i­dent Sun­day.

“I take over the game in dif­fer­ent ways,” Wall said. “I think that’s what makes a great player.”

Asked to con­sider how Wall “kind of” took over the third quar­ter, Wash­ing­ton coach Scott Brooks asked a ques­tion back.

“Kind of?” Brooks said. “Does he have to have 25 to say he took over a quar­ter?”

This was a turn­about for Wall against At­lanta. He shot just 32.9 per­cent against the Hawks in four games this sea­son. In this se­ries, he’s try­ing to van­quish those woes and the ir­ri­ta­tion he still car­ries from los­ing to the Hawks in the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals in 2015. A late fall in Game 1 of that se­ries caused five non-dis­placed frac­tures in Wall’s left hand. He missed three games. Even­tu­ally, the Wizards were sent out of the play­offs in six.

Wall’s work Sun­day un­did a brutish first half. The Wizards fouled and missed and fouled and missed. Bradley Beal made three field goals and com­mit­ted two fouls in the half. At­lanta shot 22 free throws thanks to Wash­ing­ton’s hy­per­ac­tiv­ity turn­ing into chop­ping and clob­ber­ing. Both teams shot an eye-cover­ing 33.3 per­cent from the field. When the first two quar­ters were over, Marki­eff Morris and At­lanta All-Star Paul Mill­sap yelled at each other. Morris grinned slightly when ex­plain­ing later that he told Mill­sap to “shut up” be­fore the half ended with At­lanta in front by three points. Mill­sap de­murred. “Just two guys play­ing hard,” he said. Mill­sap and Morris had a day­long tus­sle. Morris was play­ing in his first play­off game. Sun­day marked a full sea­son for Mill­sap in the play­offs; it was his 82nd post­sea­son game. He was left to grouse af­ter­ward be­cause Morris’ size and am­bi­tion caused him prob­lems, lead­ing to the Hawks’ best player be­ing out­played by one of Wash­ing­ton’s role play­ers.

“I jumped in head first,” Morris said. “I was tired, I know that much. Like I said, the in­ten­sity was sky-high. I’m al­ways a re­laxed guy, so it’s just play­ing in the mo­ment, stay­ing in the mo­ment, and giv­ing ev­ery­thing I’ve got un­til the clock hits zero.”

Brooks had won­dered about the Wizards’ spirit as the sea­son wound down. Since the All-Star break, they had not been the same group that pow­ered through De­cem­ber and Jan­uary to change their la­bel in the East­ern Con­fer­ence from trav­esty to con­tender. But, he said en­gage­ment showed again in the fi­nal two games of the sea­son, even with Wall and oth­ers tak­ing time to rest small in­juries. Locked-in film ses­sions and prac­tices fol­lowed, set­ting up Sun­day’s opener.

“I knew we were back,” Brooks said. For a day, they were.


Wash­ing­ton Wizards guard John Wall had a post­sea­son ca­reer-high 32 points in a 114-107 vic­tory over the At­lanta Hawks in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA Play­offs at the Ver­i­zon Center on Sun­day. Dur­ing a 12-minute stretch in the third quar­ter, Wall scored 15 points, pro­vided four as­sists and even col­lected three re­bounds.

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