It was the night all Wizards fans have been waiting for all season long—the anxious return of John Wall to a team that can be described as catastrophic without him. Management, teammates and coaches all repeatedly said that they think things would turn around as soon as Wall came back from injury; and if last night’s win versus the Hawks is any indication, it seems like they all might surprisingly be correct.
It took a while for Wall to get going after coming into the game in the first quarter to a standing ovation. In fact, he scared the crowd before doing anything else on the court. At one point, he seemed to trip over an Atlanta defender and hit his knee, and immediately the crowd took in a deep breath and collectively sighed until he got up and kept moving. His jump shot is still as less-than-average as it was before the injury, and he didn’t have that spark in the first.
After he, as well as all of his teammates, admittedly was very pumped up in the first half, perhaps he had some time to settle and focus in the second half. And focus he did. Leading the team to truly close out one of the first games this season, Wall ended up with 14 points, four assists and two boards. Not a marquis night by any means on the stat sheet, but he really pushed the tempo in this game.
A couple of things stood out to me in this game that showed that this win was more important than the other five wins that the Wizards have acquired this season. Sure, it wasn’t against the defending NBA champions and it wasn’t against the defending Western Conference Champions, either. But this was their game to lose from the get-go.
Washington owned this game. Martell Webster and Nene came out and scored Washington’s first 12 points of the game. Webster continued his onslaught of offensive and defensive hustle by picking up and-ones and getting to the line six times. Nene was getting physical with Josh Smith and keeping him from being too much of a nuisance. Trevor Ariza essentially silenced Kyle Korver in the fourth quarter. Bradley Beal was sinking shots, etting to the foul line, finding the open man, and forcing turnovers.
And of course: John Wall. John Wall led this team to a fourth quarter which saw the fans leaving early for an entirely different reason than it’s been all season long at the Verizon Center. Atlanta had a few stretches in the game where they came back, took the lead even, but the Wizards held control of this game in pace, pressure and productivity. Wall was making the tough shots in the fourth—the circus layups, the clutch free throws, and if he wasn’t making the shots, he was passing out for someone else to take the shot. This was one of the first times this season that fans knew the game was over and was going to be a Wizards win with more than one minute to play in the fourth.
While I don’t think this team still has a chance to make the playoffs, I do believe that this is a monumental turnaround for the team. At the very least, it’s a chance for these guys to show other teams why they should trade for them. It’s a chance to show Ernie and Ted why they should keep them in the offseason.
But for now, it was an experience of knowing that the Wizards truly earned a win and that it was their game the entire time.
That, my friends, is what you call a new tradition.