WASHINGTON -- That John Wall. That's the John Wall that has the potential to take over this league.
The Wizards' much-maligned No. 1 pick silenced his doubters for now, pouring in 23 points, dishing out 10 assists, grabbing six rebounds, turning it over just twice and playing excellent man and help defense, leading the Wizards to a surprising 106-93 win over a Milwaukee Bucks team headed to the playoffs. With Bradley Beal and A.J. Price out, the Wizards needed Wall to soak up minutes and star in their depleted backcourt. He did exactly what the doctor ordered.
This is the Wall that we all hope to see so often in the future. Not only did he score at will when he wanted, but he dominated in every facet of the game, controlling the tempo with his very presence. The numbers are impressive, but they don't do his performance justice. That's the upside the guy has.
The Wizards put some distance into their lead in the second quarter after a J.J. Redick barrage pulled Milwaukee to within five. The Wizards called timeout and set up a beautiful cross-screen post play for Nene to score with the left hand, and the Bucks never seriously threatened the rest of the half. Washington went to a small lineup with Wall, Temple, Ariza and Webster in at the same time and pressured Milwaukee from all ends. The Bucks' offense wilted and the Wizards were able to get into the open floor for easy scores. The lead swelled to 19 at one point before settling at 16 by halftime.
But the Bucks rallied, coming alive from the perimeter in the third quarter. Ersan Ilyasova, a complete non-factor in the first half, drained two threes and another jumper, taking advantage of space given to him by poor Wizards defense. On the other end, Nene struggled to get anything going and the driving lanes Wall saw in the first half closed. A bank shot by Larry Sanders cut Washington's lead to three, and after the two teams traded hoops, Jennings whipped a beautiful pass to Ilyasova for a layup to cut the Wizards' lead to one with 2:42 remaining.
A timeout didn't help matters. Ilyasova stole a pocket bounce pass intended for Kevin Seraphin on the Wizards' ensuing possession and later hit a jumper to give Milwaukee a one-point lead. The Wizards took the lead back on an Ariza three, but didn't score the rest of the frame. A runner by Ellis gave Milwaukee a 78-75 lead and punctuated a 34-15 quarter for the Bucks.
That lead proved to be short-lived. Trevor Booker, who was really ineffective in the third quarter, got a big rebound and putback to give the Wizards a two-point lead, and fast-break layups from Temple and Wall eventually pushed the advantage to four. The Bucks responded with a run of their own, but Wall kept responding. With Ellis playing his typical matador defense (seriously, what are you thinking, Bucks?), Wall attacked the rim consistently. His layup with nine minutes remaining pushed Washington's advantage to four and gave him 19 points on the night.
The Wizards' run continued. Led by Wall's aggression and some spirited pick and roll defense by Nene, the Wizards shoved the lead back up to nine with 6:23 remaining. The 8-2 run was punctuated when Temple found Nene under the hoop on a scramble play following an offensive rebound. Rather than shoot it, Nene dropped it off to a cutting Booker for a slam.
From there, Wall thwarted all comeback attempts. He pushed the ball and hit a floater to put Washington back up nine when the Bucks had a chance to cut it down to four, then hit a jumper from his right-elbow sweet spot to push the Wizards' lead to double digits with 3:55 remaining. The game soon ended for good when Wall took a charge on Larry Sanders, prompting the Bucks' big man to flip out and get ejected.
- Wall's first-half three-pointer was obviously weird (though successful!), but other than that, he did a nice job of not forcing jumpers off the pick and roll. The Bucks eventually started trapping him and he consistently made the right reads off those plays. He also pushed the ball when necessary and didn't force things that weren't there. What a fantastic all-around game for him on the heels of a similarly-excellent game in Cleveland.
- The biggest difference in that fourth quarter? The insertion of Nene. Washington's offense looked lost in the third quarter without him and suddenly became more organized with him. Their defense was leaking without him; suddenly, it was alive with him. Trevor Booker was a complete self-check without him; with him, he was an asset as a hustle player.
- Gotta give some props to TEMPLE OF DOOM. 13 points in 41 minutes, along with excellent defense and great lane-running on the fast break. The Wizards desperately needed him to play above his means with all the injuries and he came through.
- That's the kind of defense we expect to see from Wall every night. Jennings kind of took himself out of the game at times in the first half, but Wall was much more aggressive recovering to him on pick and rolls and generally didn't let Jennings drive by him in isolation situations.
- Ilyasova really is the Bucks' barometer. When he's hitting shots, they can be really tough to stop. When he's not, they look pretty terrible. He was hitting some difficult shots in the third quarter, which aided Milwaukee's comeback.
- The Wizards displayed some poor patience in the third quarter. Nene was struggling, but it might have been better to keep him in the game and take out Okafor. The Wizards could have used Nene's ability to at least catch the ball in the low post and pick out cutters. Instead, Washington's offense became too perimeter-oriented and enabled the Bucks to send hard pick-and-roll traps using Ilyasova, who had no need to focus on Trevor Booker. Playing Booker at all was probably a mistake by Wittman.
- Webster's offense was, as usual, excellent, but don't sleep on his defensive effort. The Bucks love to run Mike Dunleavy off a double screen curling from the left corner to the right wing, because Dunleavy is excellent catching and shooting to his right. But Webster's dogged pursuit blew up the play multiple times, forcing Dunleavy into difficult shots multiple times. Webster shot the small gap between the two Bucks' screeners beautifully to keep pace.
- In the locker room before the game, one of the many bullet points on the Wizards' board was this: LIMIT TURNOVERS: THE BALL IS GOLD. (The other stuff were strategy things that I probably shouldn't share). The Wizards only had 13 turnovers in the game. Wall had just two. It seems like they took the message to heart.