Reflections from a reporter born in 1987

John Wall and the Wizards make fans forget and look forward

November 3, 2010 - 05:00 AM
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Blatche (left) and Wall celebrate last night's win. (Photo: Associated Press)

Remember the neuralyzers from Men in Black? The fountain pen-looking objects that emitted a memory-erasing flash, wiping away any recollection of whatever extraterrestrial piece of unpleasantness had just occurred?

Last night's Wizards home opener, a jaw-dropping 116-115 overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers consisted of, if you want to think about it this way, dozens of neuralytic flashes. The 17,803 fans at the Verizon Center had no choice but to go along for the ride.

The flashes started early, and seemed to be perfectly timed to pull the crowd out of any threatened funk. For example, with 5:41 left in the first quarter and the Wizards trailing 19-6, Nick Young checked in to replace Kirk Hinrich and promptly made six of his next eight shots. His sixth basket, a 20-footer which Young shot while being fouled by Evan Turner, gave the Wizards a 39-33 lead with 7:11 left in the second quarter. Young sank the ensuing foul shot to give the Wizards a 40-33 lead.

"I got it going early on," Young said. "I can warm up fast so hopefully I can keep getting time and keep this going."

Then it was John Wall's turn. After a solid, if not spectacular first half (8 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, and 2 fouls to go with 2-6 shooting from the field) the rookie busted out in the third quarter, recording 8 points, 3 assists, and six steals. He shot 3-3 from the field and 2-2 from the foul line.

"He's got an unbelievable will to win," said Wizards head coach Flip Saunders. "I mean, he wills the team. He wants to take the last shot, he wants to take the big shot, he wants to make the play ... I think that his ability in getting nine steals in a game -- you just change the complexion of the game so much at that end and it got us aggressive."

The most memorable flash of all came from Cartier Martin, who, with 0.4 seconds left and everyone in Verizon Center set to go home bemoaning giving up 40 points in the fourth quarter (half of them to Louis Williams, of all people), and blowing a 10-point lead in said fourth quarter, and letting a 25-point, 12-assist, 8-steal game from Wall (to that point) go to waste as a result of said fourth quarter -- amidst that backdrop, Cartier Martin did this. Cue the flash. Cue the crowd eruption. Cue the guy to my right in Section 104's press row grabbing my arm spontaneously and instinctively. Cue overtime, and the most remarkable redemption of all.

Andray Blatche was being fitted for goat horns after he turned the ball over with 35 seconds left, a gaffe which led to an Elton Brand basket and a 115-114 Philadelphia lead with 14 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, out of a timeout, Wall passed along the perimeter to Hinrich, who dumped it inside to Blatche amid loud, from-the-gut groans from the crowd. This time Blatche held on to the ball, got fouled, and made the two foul shots that won the game for the Wizards with 7.1 seconds remaining.

"I learned in the summer league, when Lester Hudson hit a big shot for us, that you have to have trust in your guys, and so I had trust in [Blatche] that he would make a play there," Wall said after the game.

Saunders used an awkward, but, I think, apt phrase to describe the moments covered above, part of his continued emphasis that the path of improvement for this team will likely be slow and arduous.

"We failed quickly," Saunders said, when asked if he was pondering the team's blown 4th-quarter lead in the final minutes. "As players, and as coaches, too, you can't remember what happened. I was concerned with trying to tie the game.You never know what plays are going to turn a game around."

That's the great lesson of last night's game, ultimately. Sure, the Wizards do need to learn what to do with a lead in the fourth quarter (though the final defensive stand in overtime, which forced a wild fallaway by Andre Iguodala, was encouraging). And sure, it might not be a good idea to rely on Cartier Martin doing his best Garfield Heard impression in the future. But more important than any of that, is the fact that in John Wall, this franchise finally has a self-aware player (unprompted, he castigated himself for "letting [the Sixers] back into the game" with his eight turnovers last night), who is also talented enough to turn the momentum of a game in almost any way (steal, pass, shot, dunk) and at almost any time. He can even do it, you might say, in a flash.

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