WASHINGTON - The game should have been over by halftime.
The Wizards were up 56-42 when the buzzer signaled the end of the second quarter. They had just held the Los Angeles Lakers to 15 points in the second quarter. Bradley Beal had 19 at the half and made five three pointers. John Wall followed that up with 10 points and 7 assists.
The Wizards were rolling. There were Lakers fans in the building — the fanbase always travels well — but they were largely shut out for a majority of the first half. Then, in the second half, the tide turned and the Lakers made a run.
At the start of the third quarter, the Wizards made just one field goal in the first four minutes of the second half. The Lakers kept pushing back and blowing the Wizards’ scheme up with quick hands and shifty feet.
In the blink of an eye, the Lakers were down just eight. Then eight turned to six. Then six turned to three. Then three turned to two. And then it was a tie ball game.
And despite the Wizards being on their home floor, when Lou Williams made a transition layup to tie the game, the arena that was once filled with boos every time the feint hum of “Let’s Go Lakers” arose now erupted into cheers against the home team.
The Wizards players’ took note.
“Those guys were getting wide open threes and attacking the basket. We let the Lakers fans get into it,” Wall said. Was he happy about it? “Nah, I wasn’t.”
The homecourt advantage that seemingly propelled the Wizards to where they are in the standings now was gone. Washington was tied with one of the worst teams in the league and being drowned out by the vociferous cheers of what turned into a pro-Lakers crowd.
Only one thing could save them: An angry John Wall.
The Lakers tied the game at 91 with 9:08 left in the fourth quarter. Then Wall hit his second three pointer of the game. Then Wall drove into the chest Jordan Clarkson and finished a tough layup through the defense. Then Wall hit another three pointer. In less than a minute and thirty seconds, the Wizards were up 99-93.
“Just hearing the crowd. Just hearing the crowd get up and make big Laker chants. That kind of just made me mad,” Wall said. “I had to do what I had to do to try to get a win for us.”
And that he did. But he had a bit of help, too. After allowing the Lakers to claw their way back into the contest, the Wizards turned up on defense once again.
Markieff Morris stuffed what should have been an easy dunk attempt by Lakers big man Tarik Black with a bit over six minutes to go in the game. A few possessions later, Bradley Beal erased an easy transition layup attempt by D’Angelo Russell from behind.
The Lakers got the offensive rebound, but Marcin Gortat drew a charge to ultimately kill the possession.
The Lakers continued to claw their way back into the game, but ultimately, it came down to who had the best talent on the floor. And on this night, like most, it was Wall who came out on top for his Wizards.
Wizards Head Coach Scott Brooks, who admitted his team has “got to be better” on nights like these, said Wall was their saving grace with 16 fourth quarter points on a night where good shots were not falling.
“Rightfully so, he’s an All-Star. And he’s one of the best point guards in the league. I don’t know if he’s ever had an All-NBA (selection) but he’s an All-NBA player,” Brooks said. “And that’s elite of all the All-Stars. He’s that type of player....Once again, he gave us a big game in the fourth quarter.”
Lakers guard Nick Young, who played with Wall early on in his career, said he could see the growth in his game and characterized him as a closer.
“He’s finishing games. He’s taking over when it’s time to take over,” Young said. “He’s still being John, doing his thing.”
Markieff Morris said Wall’s play throughout the game is something the team has gotten used to during the season. But he knows that is not something the team can rest on.
“If it isn’t him, somebody else has got to step up,” he said.
Morris said he and other players on the team noticed the Lakers fans in the stands and their cheers, but said that it is all part of being in the league. That does not mean the team can be rattled by their presence, he said, and they managed to avoid falling victim to it tonight.
So the Wizards’ 16-game home winning streak survived a bizarre night with a wild finish. This was not one of the better games they have played in the last two months, Brooks said, but special players make special plays. And tonight, motivated by a simple irritation, Wall delivered -- once again.