It was the kind of transcendent performance everyone has been waiting to see all season from John Wall, including Wall himself — a career-high 38 points, eight assists, and just two turnovers.
But in the end, it wasn’t enough, as the Wizards fell to the Houston Rockets 114-106 on Monday. The Wizards are 1-12, and Wall felt the loss as deeply as all the others despite having a breakout game.
“I just played basketball today,” Wall said. “I made jump shots, and I just found my way getting to the basket and free throw line, but we came up short of a win.”
Wall didn’t dwell on his game but focused instead on what the team needs to do to turn things around. He says the losing is harder than most people think.
“You know when you lose, you really can’t do anything,” Wall said. “You really can’t go out in the city, turn on ESPN or any kind of sports; they’re always talking about you losing games. It hurts people. We’ve just got to prove to people on the court that it hurts us, and fight harder every minute you’re on the court.”
Wizards coach Flip Saunders, like Wall, sees positives when he can, but also is growing weary of the losing.
“It’s difficult,” Saunders said. “As I’ve told our players many times, development, developing players doesn’t mean accepting losing.”
But Wall’s brilliant performance was almost lost in the uproar of a play that sums up the problem with the Wizards - an ill-advised, showboating dunk by JaVale McGee in the second half.
With the Wizards down by four in the third quarter, McGee got the ball on a breakaway, bounced it off the backboard, and threw down a dunk. On the sideline, Saunders put his hands on his hips and shook his head. McGee subsequently spent nine minutes on the bench.
“I told him that’s unacceptable,” Saunders said. “I mean, maybe I’m too old-school, but save that for the All-Star Game. We have some players that look for highlights rather than substance.”
After McGee’s dunk, the Rockets responded with a 19-4 run, pulled out to a 19-point lead, and never looked back. Most troubling, and perhaps most telling, was that McGee didn’t understand what the fuss was all about.
“Apparently, if you get a fast break and throw it off the backboard in the third quarter, and you’re 1-11, you’re not supposed to do stuff like that,” McGee said. “I felt like I was trying to get the team hyped and trying to make a good play.”
Reaction to McGee’s dunk was mixed. Nick Young didn’t have a problem with it, but he was the only one.
“I would rather see him do a regular dunk,” Wall said. We’re down. “We’re 1-11, 1-12 now. So there’s no point in doing [that].”
Guard Maurice Evans called the dunk “disappointing”.
“We’re already struggling to get wins, we don’t need to put targets on our back,” Evans said. “That’s something JaVale knew and recognized and understood once he was in the locker room. We’re the most self-inflicted team in the league.”
Even Andray Blatche, who played through the pain of a sore right shoulder, wasn’t pleased with McGee’s showboating.
“I don’t know. That’s his thing. He’s a dunker,” Blatche said, as he shook his head, and winced. “I don’t really care for it.”