John Wall was dominant tonight. He finished with 17 points, 15 assists, five steals, four rebounds and only one turnover and led the third quarter run that broke the game open for Washington. He had a couple of highlight reel caliber plays, including a sick dunk in transition, and more than lived up to his All-Star billing tonight.
Wall missed his first seven shots but more than made up for it with a killer third quarter and elite playmaking. His scoring, pick and roll chemistry with Gortat and defense sparked a run that put the Wizards up 78-64 at the end of the third after the Thunder had gotten the score to within one. It was smooth sailing from there and the game was never close again.
The big men and Trevor Ariza a lot of props tonight, too. Ariza hounded Durant all night, holding him to 26 points without a single made three pointer. While Ariza and Martell Webster chased Durant around on the perimeter, Nene and Marcin Gortat were extremely physical and aggressive against Oklahoma City's half dozen or so young big men. No one on the Thunder finished the night with more than eight rebounds and Serge Ibaka was the only player other than Durant and Reggie Jackson to score in double figures.
Washington improved to .500 on the year and play Portland and San Antonio next. The odds of the team getting over the hump seem long right now, but at least they'll be going into two tough games with the wind at their backs.
- Washington got off to a hella hot start and finished the first quarter up 25-13. Washington's offense ran beauitfully, with lots of movement, transition shots and passing, and the defense kept everyone other than KD more or less in check. OKC had ten turnovers in the first quarter alone. A mid-to-late second quarter run got the Thunder back into the game. The Thunder stepped up their defense and got a few buckets in transition and a few free throws and just like that a 12-0 run wiped out a double digit lead.
- Wall will get press for his offense and he had a great game, especially as a passer and playmaker, but his defense is starting to get scary good. It's hard to monitor something like defensive intensity and attention to detail because so much of it happens off the ball but at least as far as I could tell, Wall was locked in all night and did an admirable job of both shutting down Jackson and playing the passing lanes. There are a lot of great point guards these days and while Wall may never be quite the offensive dynamo or a Curry or Paul, he could be the best defensive player at his position by the end of the year and should be in the discussion now.
- Trevor Ariza seemed like he wanted to get into a duel with Kevin Durant tonight. He brought it on defense and hit a couple of threes, including one in transition that was part of a key run in the third quarter, and had a good game overall. He took and missed a lot of shots early on before settling into a rhythm.
- OKC trotted out what might be the biggest lineup I've ever seen in an NBA game tonight, playing Reggie Jackson at the point, Durant at shooting guard, and Perry Jones, Ibaka and Nick Collison in the frontcourt. That's four guys who are 6'10 and long on the floor at the same time along with a point guard who's big and strong enough that he can frequently check shooting guards. Once (if?) Jones improves and they work out the kinks, this could be one of the best defensive lineups in the league. It'd be cool to see them go all in with this concept, replace Jackson with the 7'3 Hasheem Thabeet and use Durant as the point guard.
- Kevin Durant had a very ho-hum game by his standards. Ariza stepped up as expected, and the team as a whole did an excellent job of preventing him from making plays for his teammates by denying him the ball. You can live with Durant scoring 25 or 30 off of threes, dunks and free throws if it means more or less shutting down the Thunder's three point shooters.
- Not much from Bradley Beal tonight. He finished with seven points on three of 12 shooting and never seemed to find a rhythm. He also missed a couple of three pointers that he would normally make, so the poor game could have been a simple matter of bad luck.