The One John Wall Block That Changed Everything | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The One John Wall Block That Changed Everything

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Updated: December 5, 2014

[original image taken with love from the internets, and modified]

[original image taken with love from the internets, and modified]

As the final seconds ticked away in a hard-fought and unexpectedly competitive mid-season tilt, Ty Lawson cleanly gathered an inbounds pass and coolly beat his man to the basket. The outcome of a virtually meaningless inter-conference regular season game his to determine.

Until it wasn’t.

The night was January 18th, 2013, and Wizards fans fondly remember what happened next: John Wall, loosed and ravenous avatar of decades of coiled Washington basketball frustration, soared from somewhere off-camera and summarily spiked Lawson’s point-blank shot resoundingly back to earth. It was, we would come to learn, one of those rare sports moments that both changes a game and signifies change in The Game.

The basketball world has rather literally not been the same since. A lot of bad air and negative pixels were expelled from that ball when Wall’s hand connected. Washington, to that point just 7-29 in another lost season, finished up the year on a modest but respectable 22-24 run of recognizably professional basketball. And the Wizards, long the Eastern Conference’s answer to the reliably-woeful Clippers, have gone 78-67 in regular season games since that night. It’s an accomplishment made all the more impressive when measured against what they’d accomplished in the 145 regular season games leading up to that fateful one, a disastrous and laughable 38-107 record. It is not an exaggeration to say the Wizards entered that final sequence as a bad basketball organization and emerged as a good one.

And that was no patsy they took down, no tomato can. John Wall’s block sealed Denver’s second loss during a stretch in which the Nuggets went 15-2 en route to a 56-win season. But this was a time of transition for the Nuggets, as well: they finished that regular season on a pristine 32-7 run but lost unexpectedly in their opening round playoff series against the 6-seed Golden State Warriors.

Of course, the portion of all this tidal-shifting that could be known to anyone in that moment was probably not on anyone’s mind, but broadly, what Denver was pursuing was a coronation of sorts: a run to a long-denied championship for Hall of Fame coach George Karl; an overdue ascension to elite status in popular perception for Lawson; validation for JaVale McGee, playing his first full season in Denver after being dealt for Nene; the final and ultimate cashing-in on Denver’s trade that sent franchise cornerstone Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks and left the Nuggets rich in relatively unheralded assets. The Wizards, in January 2013, were a low hurdle on the path to prominence.

No one would have predicted much of a fall—the Nuggets were a perennial playoff squad who’d gone 83-56 in the 139 games before John Wall’s heroic block, but they’ve tumbled to a 77-62 record in regular season games since, including a record of just 45-55 since their dispiriting 2013 playoff exit. If Wall’s block did not exactly send them reeling into a tailspin that ultimately redirected them onto a new trajectory, it was perhaps a tidy rejoinder to the suggestion that there was much left in terms of upward momentum on their existing one. That 15-2 spurt was the final triumphant high-water mark of the George Karl era in Denver, and there, right in the middle of it, a transcendent player of the type simply not found among Denver’s roster reminded everyone of the important gulf between what can be realized by those transcendent player-types, the teams who have them, and everyone else. Wall, in that moment, was the human expression of what the Nuggets have fatally lacked—someone, anyone, capable of lifting the team through sheer competitive brilliance, someone who’d swoop in and do something superhuman to save the day. It was a point doubled-down upon by Steph Curry in the playoffs (he averaged 24.3 points and 9.3 assists in the six-game series) and one still echoing around in Denver to this day.

And Washington has been basking amid the fruits of transcendent individual talent ever since. The Wizards have gone from laughingstock to fringe-contender, lovable dark horse, League Pass appointment viewing, and free-agent destination. A fun coincidence, and sign of the times: when Lawson burst basketward with the ball and the game in his control that night, he was not guarded by John Wall. Wall, you see, was checking Lawson’s backcourt mate and erstwhile backup, a veteran guard ably lending playmaking and veteran savvy to a darkhorse contender in active pursuit of the loftiest of NBA goals, a heady player chasing his own first taste of a real shot at a title: Washington’s resident professor and Wall’s current backup, Andre Miller. Some things change, some things stay the same.

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Chris Thompson