WASHINGTON -- When asked before the game who would need to step up for the brutally shorthanded Wizards to get a win against Memphis, even with Marc Gasol out indefinitely, coach Randy Wittman responded, "Everyone."
Instead, he got a superhuman performance from his best player, and just enough from everyone else.
Even with five key players -- Nene (sore right knee), Bradley Beal (ankle), Trevor Ariza (flu), Martell Webster (abdomen strain) and A.J. Price (groin) -- sidelined by injuries, this team refused to falter yet again. Most lottery squads sitting this many players would lead to talk of tanking, but tanking rosters don't beat teams like Memphis.
Playing against one of the best, if not the best, defensive squads in all of basketball, Wall sliced and diced his way to a career-high 47 points on 13 of 22 shooting. He also added eight assists, seven rebounds and just two turnovers for good measure, punctuating the night with a three-pointer in the final minute.
Without Gasol's ability to rotate and protect the rim, the Grizzlies clearly suffered defensively, but that would ignore how many of Wall's points came away from the basket. Struggling to get open shots at the rim, Wall crushed Memphis with a combination of mid-range jumpers and quick trips to the charity stripe (19 of 24 from the free throw line).
Wall was especially impressive in the first half, piling up 26 points on 9 of 13 shooting to keep Washington close. Playing from behind would've been a major challenge for this short-handed Wizards team, but Wall drained shot after shot in the first half as his teammates struggled.
When Wittman pulled Wall late in the first quarter with the Wizards leading, the point guard's impact became clear. Bizarrely passive on the defensive end and unable to execute offensively, Washington got outscored 16-3 while Wall rested. With him back in the lineup, the Wizards finished the first half on a 29-23 run to tie things up.
On the defensive end, there were some legit highlights, including a scary-good block from Chris Singleton on a Zach Randolph layup in the second quarter, but the overall effort was lacking until the second half.
Facing a Grizzlies team without one of its key post players, Washington allowed 55 points in the first half. A mediocre offense that puts up especially weak point totals due to its slow style of play, the Grizzlies shouldn't be scoring that many points even against an undermanned Wizards team.
Washington responded in the second half with a much better effort, again showing an ability to make halftime defensive adjustments that's becoming increasingly common in the Wittman era.
Emeka Okafor was one of the players that really stepped up in addition to Wall, finishing the game with 21 points and nine rebounds while anchoring the strong defensive effort in the second half.
It's been said on this very site that the Wizards appear to be emulating the formula that has the Grizzlies near the top of Western Conference. On Monday, we were reminded of the one thing that could ultimately separate this squad from Memphis: the one and only John Wall.