Sadness drove John Wall not to relent Monday night.
After flying back from Boston on Sunday night, Wall was in what he called a “deep” sleep Monday around 11 a.m. or noon. His phone jangled with a text message, the modern delivery system for all information, including the bad kind which used to come over the phone late at night.
Wall read it, then went back to sleep. He didn’t want to deal with the news that his friend, 6-year-old Miyah, had died from cancer. He was trying to put off the processing of the senseless. Wall drove the emotions down a pit and went back to sleep.
Before the Wizards tipped Monday night against the Celtics, before Wall sprinted up the floor for stunning finishes at the rim in a 133-132 double overtime win, there was a moment of silence for Miyah. Wall was on the Verizon Center floor in his red warmups with his head tilted back as sound ceased for a short time. “Thank you,” the public address announcer said. The game was afoot. It was time to play.
The Wizards had roared back against the Celtics on Sunday before losing. The reverse happened Monday. Down 23 points in the third quarter, the Celtics vaulted themselves back into the game behind their second unit. A 3-pointer from Evan Turner — the player picked second overall, one spot behind Wall in the 2010 draft — with 0.6 seconds remaining in regulation tied the game. Rasual Butler chucked a hopeless 3-pointer on the Wizards’ final possession which had no chance of deterring overtime.
The Wizards eliminated a seven-point Celtics lead in the first overtime. During the rally, Paul Pierce navigated the court with five fouls to continue his night of precision effectiveness. Pierce scored 28 points on 12 shots against the franchise he helped resurrect and which birthed him into NBA lore. In doing so, he surpassed Reggie Miller to move into 16th on the all-time scoring list. A kickout pass from an airborne Wall to Pierce for a 3-pointer tied the game with 38.9 seconds remaining on the first overtime. Wall would later missed an off-balance jumpshot. Celtics forward Brandon Bass’ last-second shot bounced of the glass, then the rim, to end the overtime.
It was Wall who fixed the second overtime. Without hesitation, he used his uncontainable speed to sprint to the rim for a contorting basket while being fouled. Appearing horizontal with the floor while being just above it, he scored a reverse layup. A pullup jumpshot followed. Because of Wall, the Wizards were down two points 1:12 after trailing by seven.
One more charge at the rim. Another score, another foul, another highlight. Wall made the free throw to give the Wizards a 133-132 lead. Ever wily, Pierce took a charge from former teammate Jeff Green the next possession. Wall would miss another 3-pointer, but Bradley Beal defended Turner well enough to cause a miss. Wall had amassed a career-high 17 assists to go with 26 points, seven rebounds and nine turnovers.
Relieved, Wall went to do a courtside television interview. He began talking about the game, the day, Miyah. He was not able to keep the sorrow in its place. It came out in public when he began to cry, leaving the interview and doubling over halfway up the tunnel back to the Wizards lockerroom. People came to help Wall, who again had to stop, his legs frozen by emotion, on the way to the lockerroom.
In March, Wall had helped Damiyah Telemaque-Nelson, whom everyone called Miyah and had a form of cancer known as Burkitt’s lymphoma, achieve the type of thing a child dreams about. She wanted to meet singer Nicki Minaj and have electric pink hair like her. Wall shot a video with Miyah that was sent to Minaj on social media.
Miyah obtained her pink wig. She also met Minaj after Wall made arrangements and bought train tickets for Miyah and her mom to meet Minaj in New York City.
Miyah was supposed to come to the Dec. 3 game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but was too sick, Wall said. Today’s news dropped on Wall like an anvil. Steeled in the lockerroom, Wall explained.
“It was kind of tough throughout the day just knowing how hard she fought for it,” Wall said. “It was tough for me. I know it was tough for her family. I haven’t had an opportunity to talk them today because I was trying to not think about that and give her family their condolences and peace and just not think about it.”
The Wizards moved to 14-6. They are 10-2 at home, which is their best record since the 1984-85 season. Amid the emotion, Wall became the first Wizards player to have 12 or more assists in five consecutive games.
“This game was really meant for her,” Wall said. “It would have been even tougher to lose it. I think God has a plan and I just went into a mode where I didn’t want to lose this game.”