Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
John Wall's first-game performance exceeded many fans' expectations, but the players that went against him in practice all week were not nearly as surprised.
John Wall admitted it: he was nervous. He had friends in his apartment trying to hype him up all day, and all he wanted to do was take his pregame nap and pretend like this was any other game. Only, it wasn't, and he knew it.
Those nerves ended up carrying over, he told reporters after the game. But then, Wall found himself with the floor spread in the final minutes of the third quarter. He crossed up Devin Harris, cut left and floated a bank shot softly off the glass for a three-point play. From there, everything changed.
"The third quarter, when I made that layup, [was the turning point," Wall said. "A couple of my layups, I left short because I didn't have my legs. But once I had the comfort level of my legs under me, I just started making plays."
Three driving layups. One behind-the-back pass for a fourth layup. When the game was over, it sure looked like the old Wall. But while his head coach, Randy Wittman, admitted Wall surprised him, Wall's teammates had seen this player already.
"Have you seen him in practice?" Martell Webster said to a group of reporters who, actually, hadn't seen Wall in practice. "He hasn't lost a beat. He's ferocious. I was telling him, like 'You know, man, you kind of just got back, you should take it easy.' He was like. 'I don't know how to do that.' At first, I was taken aback. This kid is bred to go. He does that."
"I guarded him in practice," A.J. Price added. "I know how impressive he's been."
This was just a taste of things to come. Wall's conditioning isn't quite there yet -- he said he initially felt like he had "jiggly" legs before he got back into game shape recently -- and he estimated that he'll need a week to get back to playing major minutes. But after a day of wondering how his return would go, Wall can rest easy knowing he can still do the things he used to do well.
"He's been looking forward to this day since the end of last year," Wittman said. "He didn't expect it to be January 12, but he put in the work this summer."