On Wednesday morning, John Wall learned that his team was being removed from a nationally televised game. The Washington Wizards-Boston Celtics game next month will be replaced to highlight Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder, and Wall tweeted a short yet telling response, a sarcastic “Lol.”
Wall may have felt dissed, but he spent Wednesday night proving the Wizards are a team that deserves respect. Despite losing Bradley Beal for the second half, the Wizards toppled the Indiana Pacers, 111-105.
“They made it a closer game than we wanted,” Wall said. “But we just found ways to get defensive stops and make big plays down the stretch.”
Wall scored a game-high 36 points to go with 11 rebounds and nine assists , just missing his first triple-double of the season.
Otto Porter Jr., who recovered from early foul problems to score 22 points, came up with another defining late-game moment. With 1:40 remaining and the Wizards leading by two, Porter hit a catch-and-shoot three-pointer from the left side of the arc — a different spot but similar result to the shot he made in Monday night’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We are figuring that we have to protect homecourt,” Porter said. “Anything at all costs.”
Washington (15-16) earned its ninth win in December, trailing only Eastern Conference powers Cleveland and Toronto. The Wizards also won their seventh straight at Verizon Center, tied for the longest active home streak with the defending champion Cavaliers.
“I thought everybody chipped in tonight,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “Everybody had to give us good minutes in order to give us seven in a row at home.”
Wall started by missing four of five shots but finished a respectable 11 for 19, and as he stood at the free throw line in the final seconds, he heard scattered shouts of “M-V-P!” from some of the announced crowd of 16,172.
Wall grew more assertive offensively after he learned that Beal would not be returning from his injury. Beal scored 12 points and played less than 18 minutes in the first half, leaving the game with a sprained right ankle.
“I took a mind-set and approach to try to be more aggressive,” said Wall, who made 12 of 13 free throws, “and try to get to the basket.”
Beal found his shooting stroke early, making four of his first six shots despite being tracked by Paul George. Within the final two minutes of the first quarter, Beal absorbed a pair of fouls. The first, after he dribbled through traffic, sent him hobbling to the free throw line as he tweaked his left ankle.
On the next play, Beal stole a pass from Monta Ellis and rolled his right ankle while sprinting downcourt. Ellis was called for the foul. Beal, who missed three of the four free throws, headed to the locker room to get his ankle rewrapped.
“I’m day to day, so I’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Beal said. “I’m not one to stay out too long with ankle injuries.”
Without Beal, the Wizards still found an offensive flow. Porter and Markieff Morris aggressively went to the basket, and the Pacers could not defend without fouling as the Wizards went on a 19-6 run, earning eight free throws and building a 10-point cushion.
Though Beal returned to play nearly six minutes in the second quarter, after halftime he remained in the trainer’s room. After the game, Beal hobbled slowly to his locker and wore cushioned flip flops as left the arena. Despite the worrying signs in Beal’s absence, the Wizards never lost their grip on the game.
Rookie Sheldon McClellan started the second half, and Washington’s lead grew to 13. Even as George hit a three and pulled Indiana within 71-68, Washington responded by going to Wall, who scored 12 of the team’s next 14 points and assisted on the other two. Ending the quarter with a flourish, Wall created a one-on-one play against the Pacers’ C.J. Miles and pulled up for a 19-footer to beat the buzzer.
When the Pacers closed within two points later in the fourth quarter, Wall and Porter made sure the threat passed.
As a team, the Wizards crushed Indiana under the glass with a plus-20 rebounding margin, led by Marcin Gortat’s 16. Also, with good moments provided by Jason Smith and Marcus Thornton (seven points each), Washington’s bench pulled its weight.
“We’re playing hard. We’re leaving everything on the floor,” Brooks said. “This is a classic example of how we have to continue to play.”