John Wall felt the vibes, but he didn't let his emotions compromise his common sense in the waning seconds.
Already at a career-high 47 points, Wall tuned out the frenzied 17,868 at Verizon Center who stood, cheered and demanded one last shot to reach 50. He motioned for everyone to calm down and instead allowed the clock expire as the Wizards beat the Memphis Grizzlies 107-94 on Monday.
“I was happy to get a career high. I would've had 52 had I made my free throws. So be it. In that situation you got to show sportsmanship,” said Wall, who eclipsed his previous mark of 38 points in 2010 by making 13 of 22 shots and 19 of 24 free throws. “There was no point of me shooting the last shot. I was happy to get the win."
Playing with only nine healthy players because of injuries to Nene (right knee), Trevor Ariza (flu), Martell Webster (abdominal strain), A.J. Price (groin) and Bradley Beal (left ankle), the Wizards had to rely heavily on Wall, who played all 24 minutes of the second half. And that came after he scored 26 points in the first half, also a career high.
Wall’s performance came on the heels of a 101-92 loss at the Golden State Warriors on Saturday when he was ejected in the third quarter after receiving his second technical foul. The Wizards’ comeback bid without him fell flat and he was determined to make up for letting his teammates down.
Monday, he lifted them up. Wall came out on fire vs. Memphis, making 4 of his first 5, all jump shots, to keep the Wizards in the game. They were tied at 55 by halftime.
"I was out there, but I was a fan," Wizards center Emeka Okafor said of watching Wall work his magic.
The mid-range jump shot was working as the Grizzlies continued to go underneath screens to give him clean looks. He matched his then-career high of 38 points when he made a free throw with 4:49 left in the game.
He eclipsed it with a fadeaway jumper, with the shot clock running down, to put the Wizards ahead 94-83 just 40 seconds later.
“Whenever you’re in your zone or you’re in a great rhythm, like I've been these last couple months, you don’t feel nobody can guard you no matter who it is,” said Wall, who initially faced Mike Conley but then Tony Allen, an All-NBA First Team defender last season.
Conley could only shake his head at Wall's performance.
"When somebody has got it going like that, there is really nothing you can do," he said. "You just put a hand up and hope he misses. ... We threw everything we had at him and he made the plays."
Wall’s last basket came on a three-pointer with 46 seconds left. He was 2-for-4 from deep.
Coach Randy Wittman was pleased to see his star take the high road and not take a cheap shot with victory in hand just to reach 50.
“It’s an unwritten rule in this league, you just don’t ever do that. We've seen some quirkiness throughout the years of guys trying to get a triple-double, throwing the ball off the backboard at their own basket,” Wittman said. “John’s bigger than that. We wouldn't want it done to us. You don’t do it to the other team.”
Okafor, who had 21 points and nine rebounds, didn't have any doubts.
"I knew he wouldn't do it. He just knows. We had the win," Okafor said. "He had the good game. He already put a hurting on them enough. He doesn't have to add insult to injury."
The Wizards are 21-16 since Wall’s return. He didn't play until Jan. 12 because of a stress injury to his left knee. It has taken him a while to get back into game shape, and now the Wizards are starting to see the benefits.
They've beaten up on the superior Western Conference, getting victories vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, who they travel to play Wednesday (CSN, 8 p.m. ET), just before Wall’s return.
“He’s showing you right now what he can be. Now it’s just a matter of a consistency thing. He’s been playing at a very high, consistent level now for the last couple weeks. You don’t really understand what he went through this year. It’s tough. It’s tough to sit for three-and-a-half months and not do anything,” Wittman said, alluding to Wall’s knee injury.
Wall took the criticism off his game, especially his then-inconsistent jump shot and turnovers. He only had two turnovers in 45 minutes Monday. He's shooting 52.3% in March (112 of 214) and the Wizards are 8-6 in those games.
“I had to be patient, too. I had to make sure he was patient. ‘Work John.’ He’d get down…. A lot of things written about him. A lot of question marks, a lot of people on the outside saying things,” Wittman said. “ I give the kid a lot of credit. He took it like a duck with water going down his back, went into that gym and he worked and he worked and he worked to where he got himself better. He’s just now getting into basketball shape. The work he did all summer leading up to his injury in September is starting to pay off. He’s 22. I think we’re beginning to see how good John Wall can be.”