WASHINGTON -- John Wall has terrorized many teams during this three-week stretch, but the way he led the Wizards to a 90-86 win against the Chicago Bulls was perhaps his most impressive performance of all. The Bulls dared him to beat them from outside, unlike other teams that played him tighter and opened driving lanes. They got back in transition, preventing easy layups. They were physical with him. They made him work defensively.
And in the end? Twenty-seven, eight, nine, three blocks, one turnover.
The 47-point performance against the Memphis Grizzlies was great, but this is closer to Wall's destiny. The Bulls had the perfect gameplan for him, and he still shredded them, carrying the Wizards to the win. The fantasy world where Wall is unguardable may be closer to reality than you think.
This victory wasn't easy. The Bulls had multiple chances to tie the score and finally did it when Nate Robinson hit a difficult pull-up jumper with two minutes left in the game. A.J. Price gave the Wizards the lead again with a fading jumper, but the Bulls tied the score again with 56.6 seconds left on a putback by Nazr Mohammed.
That set up the critical sequence of the game. Out of a timeout, the Wizards again ran a screen and roll with John Wall and Nene. This time, Wall ran Jimmy Butler into the screen and hit Nene with a beautiful pocket bounce pass. Rather than score, Nene drew his man and dropped the ball off to Emeka Okafor for the dunk. The Wizards survived a missed Butler three on the ensuing possession and eventually held on for the win.
The win was especially good because things didn't really start off so well. We see teams start and end halves poorly all the time, and that's exactly what happened to the Wizards. Washington sandwiched a pretty good performance with two horrendous stretches to start the game and end the first half. Early on, their offense was sputtering and Chicago's was thriving, leading to a double-digit deficit. The Wizards seemed confused by Chicago's recognition of their pet sets, and it took them a while to get into the game. Then, after rallying to get back into the game, the Wizards let down at the end of the half. The Bulls built their lead back to nine and settled for a 49-42 halftime advantage.
But the Wizards came out strong in the third quarter. An initial rally to cut the lead to two was short-lived, but the Wizards rallied again after the Bulls kicked the lead back to eight. Wall drove and got a three-point play on the first possession out of a timeout, and transition conversions by Martell Webster and Trevor Booker cut the lead to one with just under five minutes remaining. A foul-line jumper by Okafor, one he'd been missing all game, gave the Wizards their first lead of the game at the 3:30 mark. The Wizards eventually took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.
That set up a fourth quarter that won't go in the history books. The two teams combined for one point in the first three and a half minutes, exchanging missed mid-range shots and turnovers, before finally coming alive. Back-to-back wing threes from A.J. Price proved to be huge here. On the second one, he faked a pass to the corner in transition to scareDaequan Cook away, then drained the open shot to give Washington a 79-75 lead with 5:21 remaining.
That set up a rugged finish to the game. The Bulls appeared to take a one-point lead when Mohammed snuck around Trevor Ariza for a tip-in, but the play was ruled a basket interference, wiping away the hoop. Kirk Hinrich protested the call vigorously and eventually got ejected, much to the delight of the crowd. But Wall made just one of two technical free throws, preventing the Wizards from getting separation. Luckily, the Bulls missed four critical free throws down the stretch themselves, allowing Washington to eventually escape.
So ... eight straight at home. It's the end of the season and the playoffs are out of reach, but surely this is something this franchise can build on, right?
- Given the Bulls' elite transition defense (I wrote about it on the mothership here), I was pleasantly surprised with how often Wall was able to force the issue and get shots before Chicago's defense got set. I only noticed one time in the first half where he was out of control and got stripped. This is where Wall's maturity is on full display. His pull-up jumper makes him a threat to score even if the lane is cut off, and his patience allows him to exploit secondary break opportunities.
- Emeka Okafor played just six minutes in the first half, and I think it was justified. The Bulls' misdirection kept causing him to lose track of the ball, and he let too many guys get behind him instead of being the defensive anchor he normally is. He was much better in the second half, though.
- The Wizards' ability to at least get decent chances in the corners was impressive. The Bulls are among the league's best at limiting those shots.
- Bradley Beal seemed to be warming up gingerly when I watched him before the game, and it showed. He only played 20 minutes before sitting for good early in the fourth quarter. I wonder if that ankle is still bothering him. He took a shot early in the fourth quarter on a drive to the basket and didn't seem like the same player since.
- Nene was not aggressive at all down the stretch prior to the final minute. Instead of rolling hard and looking to make a play, he couldn't give the ball up fast enough when he and Wall played a two-man game down the stretch. I don't know if it was injuries or just general tentativeness, but he has to be more of a threat than he was on several plays late. He redeemed himself in a big way, though, on those last two pick and rolls.