A reminder, dear friends: John Wall is the damn business.
Midway through the third quarter of an aggressively one-sided beatdown of the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, Washington Wizards power forward Markieff Morris picked off a Russell Westbrook pass and flung it ahead toward Wall, unleashing the All-Star point guard in the open court. As he raced down the left side of the lane, teammate Otto Porter Jr. sprinted along the right side to create a two-on-one against OKC defender Jerami Grant.
While Grant kept his eyes on Wall, D.C.’s most remarkable magician — sorry, Josh Norris, but you’ve been replaced — took the ball in his left hand and fired a bounce pass between his legs across the paint to hit Porter perfectly in stride for a fast-break dunk that sent the sellout crowd at Verizon Center into hysterics.
Still shaking my head at this John Wall pass… pic.twitter.com/uPtzr6HC5Y
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) February 14, 2017
The through-the-wickets dime to Porter might have been Wall’s flashiest helper of the evening, but he had the full repertoire working all night long, throwing darts all over the floor to open teammates and bedeviling the Thunder time and again:
With Wall pushing the pace, controlling the action and dealing at every opportunity, the Wizards stepped on the necks of a Thunder team that appeared to be devoid of energy after Saturday night’s emotional home loss to Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. Washington led by double digits less than three minutes into the game, hung 38 on the Thunder defense in the opening frame, and never trailed en route to a 120-98 pasting.
The key to that blowout victory? The Wiz putting the clamps on and the hammer down late in the second and early in the third quarter, completely seizing control during a 10-minute stretch of gametime during which the Thunder missed a frankly unbelievable collection of shots:
Thunder missed 24 straight shots.
They were outscored 32-5 during that stretch
Russell Westbrook: 0-9
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 14, 2017
That’s how a seven-point game turns into a 34-point game, and how the Wizards can turn into a bowling ball made of knives off every Thunder miss, and how Wall starts feeling himself to the point where he decides it’s time to try to lead every highlight reel while letting his man Otto eat.
Westbrook, who finished with 17 points on 5-for-19 shooting to go with four rebounds, four assists, two steals and two turnovers in just 24 minutes of work — the only OKC starter to play in the fourth quarter was rookie forward Domantas Sabonis — said after the game that the Thunder lost because they didn’t play hard, and that he “was doing what [he] wanted” against Washington’s defense, but that he “just missed.” Maybe that’s so; certainly, we’ve seen more than enough monstrous nights out of Russ to know that he’s capable of torching even elite competition.
But while the competitor in Westbrook might not like the idea of tipping his cap so soon after such a vicious beatdown, let’s give credit where credit is due. The Wizards beat the brakes off his squad, harassed him and his teammates all night, buried them beneath a barrage of buckets — 57.5 percent shooting from the field, 13-for-21 from 3-point range, six players in double-figures led by Morris (23 points on 8-for-14 shooting) and Bradley Beal (22 points, 6-for-7 from deep) — and completely snuffed the Thunder out in less than three quarters. Yes, everyone has off nights, but an awful lot of opponents have been having theirs against the Wizards recently.
Washington’s now won 10 of 11 and 17 of 20 to improve to 33-21, good for third place in the East. Their three losses during that stretch came on a buzzer-beater on the road, in an overtime classic to the defending champions, and in a boop-beef-broiling visit to the team that’s now the East’s No. 2 seed, which they promptly avenged in convincing fashion. Their starting lineup is annihilating teams right now, blowing doors off by more than 17 points per 100 possessions during this 20-game run, and with Beal and Otto Porter shooting the lights out, that makes sense:
One of the best p&r passers. Two knockdown perimeter shooters. One of the league’s best roll men. All-purpose 4 man. That’s so tough to stop
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) February 14, 2017
None of it works without Wall, though. He was the clear victor in the head-to-head matchup of the two All-Star point guards on Monday night, finishing with 15 points, 14 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, a steal … and one scintillating bounce pass that had him smiling long after the final buzzer sounded, according to Candace Buckner of the Washington Post:
The last time Wall remembers making a glitzy pass like that?
“All-Star Game to LeBron,” Wall said, smiling.
This is where John Wall’s at right now: he’ll hit you with his All-Star Game flow in the middle of the third quarter of a real game, for no particular reason other than that he can. How long the Wizards will last come the postseason remains to be seen, but with any luck, this version of Wall — healthy, rolling, confident, joyful and bursting with fun — sticks around for a long, long time.
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