[Editor's Note: When someone has tried to hype up the match-up between John Wall and this player or that, Wall himself before has played down the issue across the board, saying him against anyone could be considered a so-called 'match-up' ... Well, why not John Wall vs. Jose Calderon then? In the way that everything is connected, Calderon is the former whipping boy of Gilbertology -- the sentiment coming from Arenas' blog in February 2008 that Calderon did not deserve to be an NBA all-star. Now Rashad is here to tell it from the other side, not regarding the days of old, but of Calderon against the Wizards of Wall. -Kyle W.]
I was not able to speak with Raptors guard Jose Calderon or Wizards guard John Wall before the game. Calderon was in the training room getting treatment on a foot that was so injured, even Raptors coach Jay Triano wasn’ t 100-percent sure if he’d play. And a pre-game interview with Wall is as elusive as as a Wizards road win these days–I’m sure it’ll happen one day, but it hasn’t as of yet.
However, if I were able to interview Calderon and Wall, I can imagine interview answers going something like this:
Hypothetical Wall: ‘Calderon has been playing well, I think he’s averaging 12 points and 10 assists over the past 10 games, so he’s playing at a high level. But he played 36 minutes last night in the Raptors’ loss, and he’s battling a sore foot. I’m going to use my speed and quickness, and try to go by him as much as possible–while staying within the framework of the offense of course.’
Hypothetical Calderon: ‘I’m going to have to pick my spots tonight and try to get my teammates involved as much as possible. My foot is a little sore, I played a lot last night, and I’m going against arguably the quickest point guard in the league. My job is to play smart and get DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani some good looks early.’
If you were handicapping the Wall/Calderon matchup prior to the game, you’d give the advantage to John Wall. Quicker guards like Chris Paul, Jrue Holliday and D.J. Augustin had given Wall fits in recent games, but Calderon does not fit that profile. Plus, Rashard Lewis told Beckley Mason for TAI before the game:
“You know they like to play fast, but we like to play fast as well, because John is our point guard, and he’s better when we play fast… I think if we can defend first and hold them to one shot, and then kick the ball to John and get out and just run, we’ll be better off on offense.”
In the words of Chris Berman, “That’s why they play the games.”
Wall did not attack Calderon, did not exploit his quickness advantage, rather he looked confused in both running and defending the pick and roll. There were also several instances where Wall would have an open shot, but he elected to pass or dribble a bit more before shooting, which is something the basketball gods frown upon. During the last 20 seconds of the game, Flip Saunders had such little confidence in Wall’s ability to guard Calderon that he inserted Kirk Hinrich instead. Despite Wall’s lethargic performance, the Wizards won and Wall finished with eight points (on 4-14 shooting), nine assists and five turnovers. That prompted Saunders to give Wall somewhat of a backhanded compliment:
“You know, as a point guard, when your team wins and you get nine assists, you can’t totally say that the guy didn’t do the job.”
On the other side of the floor, Calderon put in a masterful performance on the second night of a back-to-back. He had 21 points, 15 assists, nine rebounds and just one turnover in 38 minutes of play. He drove by Wall with ease. He abused him on the pick and rolls, which allowed him to hit open, mid-range jumpers. He managed to consistently find the open teammate.
Coming out of the third quarter, the Raptors were trailing by five points, when Calderon decided to take over. He found Linus Kleiza for an open jumper, he hit two open shots of his own, he forced Wall into a turnover, and then he blocked one of Wall’s shots. The Wizards called a timeout to stop the bleeding, and Calderon responded with two more assists, and in a little under four minutes, the Raptors went from trailing by five, to leading by two. In that brief stretch, Calderon had five points and three assists.
Unlike Wall, who seemed to be confused with the Raptors playing off of him, Calderon was comfortable hitting a jumper or driving to the basket. Basically, Calderon was out-Walling John Wall, and even though the Raptors came up short in the end, it was not Calderon’s fault. That distinction went to DeRozan who had been averaging 17.5 points in his last eight games, but only managed seven points on 3 of 11 shooting against the Wizards.
Raptors Coach Jay Triano had this to say about Calderon after the game:
“Jose had one of his best games ever as a Raptor, he was one way from a triple-double, he had a career high in rebounds, so that helped out there. He woke up this morning and he said he felt pretty good, and I’m glad that he did play and he did a great job.”
After the game, I asked Calderon to assess the man he had imitated and torched for a near triple-double. He said:
“I think he’ s going to be a great player, but it’s tough in the first year, and plus he’s dealing with injuries like me. But at his best, he can do a little bit of everything, but my guys were setting good screens tonight, that’s why I was so open and able to turn the corner. But still, I think he’s going to be good.”
I followed up by asking him if he made a conscious effort to go after Wall because he was a rookie. Calderon smiled and said, “No not really.” Tomorrow night, Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz (arguably the best point guard in the league) will be in town, and his game is all about attacking opposing point guards. I wonder if he’ll smile afterwards as well.