- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 13, 2014

John Wall walked off the floor to “M-V-P” chants.

At least for the night, he was a better point guard than Chris Paul.

On Friday, the Washington Wizards beat the Los Angeles Clippers, 104-96. And Wall, more than anyone, made his presence felt at both ends of the floor — often at the expense of the back-to-back-to-back All-NBA First Team point guard on the other team.

“I thought [Wall] was terrific,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought he was into [Paul] most of the game and bodied him and blocked shots. He’s a freak athletically, and I thought in the past he used it only on the offensive end. And now he’s a two-way player, and that makes him a heck of a basketball player. I’m kind of happy for him.”

Wall finished the evening with 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, which — besides nailing both attempts from downtown — is a mediocre scoring effort for him. He also delivered 11 assists, though, his seventh consecutive appearance with at least 11. And he made his greatest impact guarding Paul, who Wall held scoreless until 6:58 left in the second quarter.

“[Wall] takes the challenge each and every night no matter who it is,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who scored a game-high 29 points, said. “Just the fact that it was Chris Paul tonight, I was talking to him and he said, ‘I was really focusing on just guarding him more than anything.’”

Wall sat on the bench when Paul, who started the game shooting 0-for-3, finally sank a jumper. When Wall returned to the floor with 6:22 left in the second quarter, he got under the 2014 assist leader’s skin.

The possession after Wall nailed his second three of the game, he poked the ball out of Paul’s hands from behind. The ball stayed in the Clippers‘ possession, until Wall stripped Paul again, this time knocking it off Paul’s shoe out of bounds.

Paul, who led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio entering the game, finished with six turnovers and six assists, which overshadowed his 19 points. His ratio had sat at 5.89, the fourth-highest mark since statisticians started to track turnovers in 1977. He even became the only player in NBA history to record at least 212 assists and less than 37 turnovers through the first 21 games of a season this year.

But that was before the 6-foot-4 Wall used his length to harass his 6-foot foe, poking the ball from his hands at least four times.

John’s always been a really good defender,” Paul said. “He gets in the passing lanes, gets his hands on the ball.”

Friday night marked the seventh time that Wall and Paul went head-to-head in the NBA. Whether he wore a Clippers or a New Orleans Hornets uniform, Paul’s team had edged Wall’s each game — until this year.

The last time Paul, 29, and Wall, 24, went head-to-head, the veteran dominated. Nearly a year ago to the date, on Dec. 14, 2013, Paul delivered 12 assists and shot 11-for-14 from the field, 5-for-7 from 3, to score 38 points. Wall finished with 24 points and 12 assists, but he also failed to score in a fourth quarter in which the Clippers stretched their lead to 113-97.

Three-point shooting and turnovers had been the biggest differences between the point guards in their previous six meetings. Paul had turned the ball over 2.7 fewer times than Wall and made 2.7 times as many threes as him.

Entering Friday night’s showdown, the Clippers boasted a nine-game winning streak and hadn’t lost a game since Sunday, Nov. 23.

Wall and Paul ranked fifth and sixth among point guards in scoring this season. Paul scored more efficiently, though, converting 51.3 percent of his field goals and 39.7 of his attempts from downtown, compared to Wall’s 44.1 field goal percentage and 32.1 from behind the 3-point line. Wall and Paul also ranked second and fourth in assists, respectively.

This wasn’t apparent at Verizon Center this December.

“I think this season we know we’re a defensive-minded team and don’t have a lot of turnovers,” Wall said. “When we put pressure on guys and get guys not to run their offense, it makes them do things they don’t want to do. I think that’s the difference from last year to this season.”

Wall and Paul both entered the game tied for the league lead in double-doubles, 13, but Wall took an edge in the department following his outstanding performance. He made plays from the opening tip-off, dishing out three assists in the first four minutes. But his one steal, two blocks and incalculable disruption helped spark a signature Wizards win.

John Wall has been leading us in that department,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “When John is engaged defensively, it just kind of filters right on down.”

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