WASHINGTON -- All throughout the Wizards-Knicks game, I waited for the other shoe to drop. When the Wizards took a halftime lead, I figured it was only a matter of time until they blew it. When they took an early third-quarter lead, I figured it was only a matter of time until they blew it. When they went back ahead early in the fourth quarter, I thought they'd blow it.
And then ... they didn't blow it.
Every time the Knicks made a run, the Wizards came up with an answer. In the end, they emerged with a 106-96 win that was by far one of the most satisfying of the season. Several things happened that may not happen again -- Trevor Ariza won't go 5-7 from three every night -- but for a team that has struggled to close out games all year, this finish is something to celebrate. Kudos to John Wall for coming up huge in the fourth quarter and to Ariza, Nene, Martell Webster and, surprisingly, CHRIS SINGLETON for some big fourth-quarter performances.
As was the theme all night, I'm not quite sure how the Wizards took a three-point halftime lead, but they did. Mostly, it was because of Webster and Ariza, who combined to hit six of their eight threes. They were all open looks, but that number seemed pretty unsustainable at the time. (So much for that). Wall was alternatively brilliant and erratic, beating theKnicksdowncourt twice on full-court pushes and also committing three bad turnovers. In other words, he was himself. Nevertheless, the Wizards survived enough Knicks onslaughts and created enough offense in transition to compensate.
The third quarter began brilliantly, though. The Wizards forced a number of difficult Knicks shots and got out with some early offense. Nene and Garrett Temple hit mid-range jumpers, and the Wizards took a seven-point lead four minutes into the half. Their coverages on Anthony were especially solid, as they forced him into tough spots on the baseline and made Anthony beat them by elevating over the top. The Knicks ultimately called timeout with 7:44 left to settle down after Nene got a rebound, dribbled up the court, saw Jason Kidd pick him up and took him into the post for a layup.
They eventually did settle down thanks to a lineup change. Mike Woodson took out Kidd and put in Smith, forcing a number of odd matchups. Nene ended up being stuck on Iman Shumpert, and that hurt with a couple defensive rotations. A wide-open three by Shumpert cut Washington's lead to four, and then another transition hoop following two Wall clanked jumpers forced a Wittman timeout.
The Wizards stemmed the tide with an open Webster three from the top of the key, but the game was on. The Knicks kept pushing and Smith eventually tied the score at 68 with a beautiful spin move that eventually left Seraphin in the dust. Felton hit a three on the next possession after a typically dumb Ariza pull-up jumper, and then the Wizards committed a bad live-ball turnover, leading to an Anthony layup and a five-point Knicks lead with 1:07 left.
That forced Wittman to put Wall back in, and it paid immediate dividends. Wall scored at the end of the third, found Ariza for three to begin the fourth, then scored another layup in a spot-up situation to give the Wizards the lead again. An Ariza steal and push ahead to Wall yielded two free throws to culminate a 14-2 run and a seven-point Wizards lead with 9:46 remaining. Just as the Knicks started to rally, Wall found Chris Singleton for a wide-open three on a beautiful set play, and Ariza hit ANOTHER corner three to push the lead to eight with 8:18 remaining.
From there, the Wizards kept holding off Knicks charges. Just when it looked like the Knicks were rallying, Wall flipped in a righty floater going left, an absurd shot that nevertheless showed off some of his growth. Then, after Smith got free for a baseline jumper, the Knicks weirdly didn't get back defensively, allowing Wall to lob a pass to a wide-open Nene under the hoop for a dunk to push Washington's lead back to seven.
The Knicks kept charging back with some aggressive Anthony drives, but Washington kept surviving with timely hoops. Wall hit an open jumper to hold off one charge, and then his drive around Stoudemire set up an offensive rebound putback for Nene to keep the lead at seven with 2:36 remaining.
As usual, New York charged back, but the Wizards really sealed the ballgame with a fantastic read from Wall. Wall noticed the Knicks forcing him right on a pick and roll and leaving Nene alone, so he properly timed his drive and whipped a pass to Nene at the perfect time. Nene passed out of a layup for some reason to hit Webster in the corner, but the three-point marksman bailed the Wizards out by hitting a clutch shot to put the Wizards up nine.
All in all, it was a great win. The Wizards have now won seven of eight at home, and if they could just compete on the road, maybe they'll finish strong after all.
- Kevin Seraphin really got beat up by Amar'e Stoudemire in his second-quarter stint, particularly when Stoudemire went to post up. Amar'e has been beating a lot of people recently, but the stint was depressing because he did it with strengths. I remember when Seraphin was supposed to be big and strong himself.
- Wall's lack of a jumper once again was an issue. The Knicks went several feet under every ball screen, and yet, Wall could not make them pay by hitting any perimeter shots. This is a huge weakness that keeps holding him back, and there haven't been too many signs that his shot is getting any better. On the other hand, Wall did make some excellent full-court drives and did end up finding ways to compensate for his jumper in the fourth quarter, whether it was a wrap-around pass to Kevin Seraphin or a floater over Chandler.
- Chris Singleton's first-half stint was not very good, but he gave some excellent minutes in the second half. The Wizards stuck him on Chandler and had him switching pick and rolls, which disrupted the Knicks' offense for a spell. The Knicks tried running their patented triple ball screen for Felton, but Singleton's mobility helped disrupt things. He also made some nice spot-up plays offensively and contested one Anthony drive beautifully without fouling. His presence ultimately forced Mike Woodson to take Stoudemire out and go smaller.
- Wall played 38 minutes in the game and did not come out in the contest's final 13 minutes. I guess his minutes limit doesn't exist anymore.