[D.C. Council: setting the scene, rating the starters, assessing the subs, providing the analysis, and catching anything that you may have missed. Unlike the real DC Council, everything here is on the table. Game No. 70, Washington Wizards vs Memphis Grizzlies; contributors: Adam McGinnis and Kyle Weidie from the Verizon Center and Conor Dirks via television broadcast.]
Go ahead and smile, John.
Washington Wizards 107 vs Memphis Grizzlies 94
MVP: John Wall, and that is all.
Stat of the Game: Memphis set out to slow the game down. Didn’t happen. Washington outpaced the Grizzlies in fastbreak points, 21-9, forcing the refs to blow the whistle with their aggressive, attacking nature.
“He shot more free throws then we did as a team which is amazing,” said Memphis coach Lionel Hollins about John Wall’s 19-for-24 effort from the line. What’s more amazing is that the Wizards went 30-for-44 (.682) on free throws as a team and still beat the sixth-best squad in the NBA.
The Wizards were up seven with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Cartier Martin’s cross-court pass was picked off by Memphis’s Tony Allen, who dribbled down on a clear breakaway. Wall, who’s shot blocking prowess has become an impressive staple of his game, raced behind Allen. However, Wall did not go for a highlight swat and instead appeared to bump Allen from behind, who missed the shot. No foul was called and the ball ended up in Wall’s hands, who then found Carter Martin for a 3-pointer on the other end—Allen was slow to get back. The Phone Booth erupted, Memphis called timeout, and the five-point play completely changed the momentum. Allen was incensed by the no call and minutes later, pushed Wall out of frustration, giving John another trip to the free throw line, and thus padding the Wizards’ lead.
Memphis guard and long-time Washington nemesis, Jerryd Bayless, cut the Wiz lead to four with about two minutes left in contest. The Grizzlies then decided to run a double-team at Wall off a screen, who adeptly found Emeka Okafor at the high post. The Wizards big man knocked down a huge 15-foot jumper, which helped send Memphis packing with a case of the blues.
Rating five Wizards starters & two key subs on a three-star scale.
You’ve got everyone’s attention now, John Wall. By halftime of the best game of Wall’s career, he had scored 26 points via hitting 9-of-13 attempts from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. He could have stopped there, and most would have considered it a very good game. But they play two halves in the NBA, and the evening belonged to John Wall. His final stat line is a curio in the annals of D.C. history. Only one other Wizard has scored 47 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished eight dimes in one game. Gilbert Arenas did it in the Decembers of 2005 and 2006 against Miami and the Lakers. No player, other than Wall, has achieved those numbers in the NBA this season. In this semi-self-created “contract year” (and really, to be clear, it’s not a contract year), this was a significant statement.Not only is Wall the first player to score 40 points on the Grizzlies this season, it’s also the first time any player other than Kevin Durant has scored 40 points against the Grizzlies in the past three regular seasons. The Grizzlies may miss Marc Gasol, who is out with an injury, but they’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country. The first thing Wall said to Comcast’s Chris Miller after the game? With a genuine smile on his face, Wall’s initial comment was: “I could have had 52. I missed five free throws.” It may surprise you, if you didn’t watch the game, to know that John Wall hit 10 jumpers (two of which were 3-pointers). For comparison’s sake, it took him until his fifth game this season before he hit his 10thjump shot.One of the biggest differences against the Grizzlies was that Wall used his speed judiciously, and didn’t just use it to go as hard as possible to the basket. Two of my favorite moments of the night were plays in which Wall got foul calls after making unexpectedly changing his velocity. The first came when Wall was rushing toward the basket down the middle of the court. He outran his man, but when he saw additional defenders take up position near the basket, he stopped (on a dime) well ahead of them, and the sudden stop and pull up caught his defender off guard. Wall didn’t make the shot, but he drew the foul, and went to the line to take two of his 24 free throw attempts. Another impressive play took place with 0:33 to play in the third quarter. Wall was in stasis, isolated on the left side and dribbling slowly forward without pushing towards the hoop. Then all of a sudden, he changed gears. Jerryd Bayless couldn’t get in front of him, so he fouled him, and Wall went to the line again.
The rich get richer in the NBA. If your outside shot is falling, opposing teams play you closer. When opposing teams play you closer, they’re more susceptible to fouling, and the fouls they commit look more like fouls than the wild, confusing contact Wall sometimes makes when going full-speed ahead. But enough about fouls. The cherry on top of Wall’s career night was a 3-pointer from the top of the circle in isolation after dribbling out the majority of the shot clock and with forty seconds remaining in the fourth quarter; it would have been clutch, too, if Wall hadn’t already put the game out of reach. As the final seconds disappeared from the game clock, Washington’s young point guard motioned to the fans, encouraging them to be as loud as they could be, sharing the moment and the victory.
I am about to do something extremely rare for sports pundits, which is admit to being wrong. Well, kinda. I don’t think Garrett Temple is a long-term answer for the Wizards at the guard position; his role should be that of a third-string combo guard. And I still have bruised feelings about how Jordan Crawford was jettisoning so suddenly for a guy who struggles to shoot, but it is time to give Temple some props while I eat a serving of crow. He has been an absolute warrior for this team, logging at least 35 minutes in the Wizards’ last three games. Temple’s shot is improving, and there is a chemistry developing between he and Wall. Temple’s line of seven points, three assists, two steals and one rebound will not wow anyone, but his ability to check either guard position allows Wall a breather on the defensive end. Temple has been key element of the Washington’s recent success.
Chris Singleton played 43 minutes against Memphis, second-most on the team after Wall. Not bad for a guy who, before the game against Golden State, hadn’t gotten even one minute of action in six straight games. And unlike half of the Wizards team, it wasn’t because of any physical ailment. Chris was one of three Wizards in double-figures (10 points), and although he couldn’t mimic Martell Webster perfectly, he did get some modest results. With around 9:30 left in the third quarter, Singleton seemingly punched the ball over the basket’s superstructure, but the referee called a jump ball. On the next offensive possession, he followed up a miss with a nice tip-in. The Wizards got the ball back, and although Singleton didn’t receive the pass from Wall particularly well, he battled hard on the offensive glass and on the floor for the chance to get to another bucket. He was fouled before he got the chance. Along with his 10 points, Singleton contributed seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
For every Hollywood star shining on the movie screen, there are under-the-radar actors doing their jobs in order for the A-lister to get their deserved recognition. Trevor Booker’s admirable dirty work down low allowed John Wall to bust out on the big stage for a 47 piece. The undersized “Cook Book” held his own against a formidable Memphis front line, finishing with seven points, four rebounds, three steals, two assists, and plus/minus of plus-19 in 27 minutes. Booker helped limit Zach Randolph to 10 points and seven rebounds, which are below his season averages. In one sequence, Booker out-hustled Randolph for a loose ball, and Z-Bo was called for a foul. Randolph, on the dead ball, then knocked the rock out of Booker’s hands a couple times and was given a technical. Booker never backed down from the All-Star once throughout. The Wizards pulled off the improbable upset over the Grizzles because the whole team just wanted it more, and Booker was one of those tough guys leading the way.
Emeka Okafor almost was taken first overall in 2004. Almost. Many teams might have taken him over high schooler Dwight Howard. Instead, he became the first ever draft pick by the Charlotte Bobcats franchise (second overall that year). So he toiled with them for five seasons. After his fourth season, Charlotte signed Okafor to a 6-year, $72 million contract, partially afraid that Okafor would simply sign the qualifying offer and enter unrestricted free agency the next summer. A year later, the Bobcats traded their “franchise guy” to the New Orleans Hornets for Tyson Chandler. Charlotte then made the playoffs for the first, and only, time in franchise history, getting swept by Howard and the Orlando Magic. Okafor was seen as a long-term investment for New Orleans (and for Chris Paul), but that fell apart when Paul forced his way out of town in December 2011. Okafor became nothing more than a wart of a bloated contract on a rebuild from scratch.
“I always tease that he has an ‘A’ in stretching, Pilates and yoga. I’d like him to have an ‘A’ in basketball,” said then-Bobcats coach Larry Brown about Okafor in April 2009, a couple months before he was traded from the Queen City to the Crescent City. Brown also questioned Okafor’s passion for basketball. Years later, Okafor finds himself the soft-spoken player on the Wizards, a hapless franchise trying to start something. And perhaps he’s finally found a home. The Renaissance man who’s called “Wikipedia” by his teammates is bound to like an international city like Washington. Okafor is also bound to like a point guard like John Wall. Okafor will be in D.C. for another year, but perhaps also beyond with a new, much more affordable contract in 2014? It could happen.
Okafor’s per 40 minute numbers in 35 games next to Wall: 16.1 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 51 percent from the field. Okafor hasn’t scored that well since seasons 3-thru-5 in the league, he’s never rebounded nor assisted at those rates, and you’ll take the 51 percent from the field, even if Okafor’s standard during his mid-career was higher. As for Emeka’s free throws? His 48.7 percent this season is as bad as ever. So perhaps Larry Brown was a little bit right. Otherwise, on Monday night, without Okafor’s 21 points and nine rebounds—he really took it upon himself to be more productively aggressive on offense, to play with passion—John Wall’s career night goes for naught.
Cartier Martin was able to find just a little bit of heat on Monday night, scoring nine points on 3-for-9 FGs, 2-for-5 from deep. Martin was also part of the Wizards’ concerted effort on the defensive glass, adding six rebounds to the team total. Cartier sank shots when it counted most: the fourth quarter. With John Wall on fire and receiving defensive attention, he needed some shooters near him. And absolutely no one else available to play, aside from Garrett Temple, had that capability in their repertoire. So Martin scored eight of his points (two 3s) in the final period, all coming in the first six minutes—thanks to Wall assists—to help the Wizards build a double-digit lead. Sure, Cartier’s generally poor defense will ultimately keep him off the court when there are more healthy bodies, but it’s nice to know he’s sometimes there.
Jan Vesely played in this game, which is significant because he probably wouldn’t have if anyone else (other than Jason “Still Here” Collins) had been healthy enough to suit up. And he probably shouldn’t have, even given the context. Jan is fun to watch because of the intangibles, not because he provides a lot of value. He did score once, and also failed to catch a defensive rebound which came right to him. After he let it slip through his fingers, it was picked up by a Memphis player, and I don’t know what happened next, because I was too busy shaking my head and massaging my left temple with my eyes closed.
“If we go out and just play as hard and recklessly as we can, and just lay it on the line, you’ll give yourselves a chance to win.” —Randy W.
Well, the ol’ ball coach didn’t have much margin for error. He played John Wall 44 minutes and 33 seconds. The lineup that played when Wall was taking a brief rest—Garrett Temple, Cartier Martin, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin—finished minus-13 in plus/minus over those three minutes and change. Yikes.
Another key: the coach implored his players to fight, and they actually listened. Mostly, Chris Singleton and Trevor Booker took the challenge to play “as hard and recklessly as we can,” throwing their nose into the Memphis fire. The tone was set and at the end of the night, the Wizards found themselves with one “incredible win,” according to the wise words of Wittman.
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