In between all the free-throws and foul calls a game of basketball threatened to break out last night in Washington’s Verizon Center, as John Wall and Bradley Beal led the Wiz to a 2-0 series lead against the Atlanta Hawks.
Beal was superb throughout, staying aggressive and never shying away from J.R. Smith-level contested looks or contact around the basket (and there was a lot of contact around both baskets). He hit a dagger three with just 38 seconds left to put the Wiz up by eight, coming off an excellent-if-slightly-illegal screen by Marcin Gortat who also had quite a night, lodging himself in Dwight Howard’s tiny head early and staying there for the entirety of the game.
The pass, of course, came from John Wall, firing into Beal’s outstretched palms at precisely the right height, pace, angle and moment. Wall’s play continues to define the Wizards during the postseason as it did through the regular season – he is their absolute life and soul.
After Beal’s ripcord three, Wall got to the line on the following possession, and with the game already sealed up, saw his first free throw rim out. He was livid, castigating himself and retrieving the ball only to bounce it once in frustration and hand it back to the official as though he had spanked a mischievous child. This is the kind of passion Wall brings to the Wizards, night in and night out, as he dived for every loose ball, flexing his biceps and throwing up gang signs at every available opportunity to an increasingly raucous DC crowd. You want absolutely nothing to do with John Wall when he starts throwing up gang signs - just ask Dennis Schroder:
I mean, I loved John Wall before he did that and he had just evaporated Schroder with a mean left-handed dunk, anyway - the Southern drawl elongation of ‘boy’ to ‘bwoiiiiii’ is a fucking work of art. There was no coming back from this for Schroder, who shot 1-8 from deep, 38 percent from the floor, and generally looked as though he sees John Wall flying at him at warp speed whenever he closes his eyes at night.
After a season which saw new career highs in points, assists, steals, and field goal percentage, Wall has continued to impress. He had 32 points in the first game of the series and 32 more last night, all with his usual excellent defense and leadership - down the stretch I even saw him rip the clipboard from poor Scotty Brooks’ hands and draw up his own ‘secrit play’.
Washington have one of the better 7-8 man rotations in the NBA, with, remarkably, both Jason Smith and Brandon Jennings becoming important contributors off the bench last night when Kelly ‘Wave Papi’ Oubre and Kieff Morris entering foul trouble early. Jennings in particular, despite allowing Jose Caldron (JOSE CALDERON) to blow past him around screens on more than one occasion, made up for it on the other end, swishing long-twos like he doesn’t know what year it is and keeping the Wiz within touching distance when it looked as though the Hawks might have pulled away. After hitting back-to-back-to-back shots and then unselfishly dishing to Smith for an easy dunk, Wall was the first guy up off the bench to run to his teammate, waving a towel in each hand and chest-bumping Jennings so hard I’m surprised the refs didn’t call a technical.
Despite a better team this time round, Washington’s playoff success will inevitably come down to Wall. They will go only as far as he can take them. Like the final scene in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, it is up to Wall, their totem, their spinning top point guard, to just keep on spinning.