- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — Dejected, despondent and needing to be shaken from his deep depression, John Wall turned to Randy Wittman following the Washington Wizards‘ shootaround Tuesday morning and confided in his coach a secret Wittman never wanted to hear.

“I’m frustrated,” Wall told him. “I don’t know how to get out of this slump. I don’t know what to do.”

Wall had been wholly inconsistent in the Wizards‘ previous three games against the Indiana Pacers, all losses that left Washington facing a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven second-round playoff series. His shooting had been poor; his decision-making had often been worse.

Wittman admonished his point guard, then inspired him. Not long after their consultation, Wittman sent Wall a text message.

Just believe, it read. Just believe in yourself, John Wall.

“And I did.”

SEE ALSO: On the rebound: Wizards crash boards, crush Pacers to keep season alive

With the Wizards staring down the end of their season, Wall confronted his demons. He had 27 points, five rebounds and five assists on Tuesday, spurring Washington to a 102-79 victory over the Pacers in Game 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The 23-point margin of victory was the largest in the playoffs in franchise history, though the statement the Wizards made to the Pacers wasn’t as grand as Wall’s proclamation to his teammates and his critics.

He made shots, showing off his confidence by drilling a 28-foot 3-pointer in transition as the third quarter ended. He set the tempo, pushing his team early so it could claim its signature first-quarter lead. He was decisive, confident and determined.

“I thought he was fabulous,” Wittman said.

Postseason basketball has an interesting way of manufacturing heroes, and while Wall entered the playoffs for the first time nearly a month ago knowing success could elevate him to another level of stardom, he knew little else about the demands several extra weeks of games would make.

That lesson was taught to him by some of the Wizards‘ playoff veterans, but it came with a caveat: Only so much could be said about the postseason until one experiences it. The intensity, the scrutiny, the drama would all arrive on a higher level.

Wall had a different way of reacting to it. He withdrew from his team on the trip west, keeping to himself during the flight, and later holed up in his hotel room, where he watched nothing but movies on Monday night.

He continued to keep to himself during the Tuesday morning shootaround, and his six-minute chat with reporters afterward was uncharacteristically frank and sullen.

Center Marcin Gortat, whose 31-point, 16-rebound renaissance in Game 5 mirrored Wall’s in many ways, took note of his teammate’s malaise that morning. Wall, outgoing and boisterous, was much more reserved.

“For the first time in 102, 103 games that we had this season, I seen this guy that didn’t want to talk to anybody,” Gortat said. “He was kind of closed inside him. He didn’t want to talk to anybody. He didn’t want to interact with anybody. He didn’t rap before the game. He didn’t laugh before the game. And I guess, it’s just a lot of things around basketball that has influence on him. A lot of people probably talking crap to him and you know, a lot of people disappointed in the way we played Game 3 and 4.

“It was hard, first of all, for me to get his attention because everybody try to tell him that, ‘Today, you’re going to have a great game.’ So when 25th person approached him, it was me. He was like, ‘I don’t want hear this thing.’ I said, ‘No, John, there’s just one thing I’m going to tell. I’m with you. It doesn’t matter which way it would go, I’m supporting you.’”

Inconsistencies have plagued the Wizards all season, not just during the playoffs, and for Wall, the challenge now becomes avoiding such a lapse.

Among the reasons why Washington has been difficult to handle is because players have accepted roles and shared responsibilities. As in the regular season, all five starters have averaged double figures in scoring. On Tuesday, Gortat was the only starter without at least four assists.

Should Wall attempt to build on his success and control every facet of Thursday’s game, or should his teammates rely too heavily upon him early, the Wizards‘ spirited run may end sooner than they wish.

After his first three seasons, Wall would spend much of May at home in North Carolina, wondering not what, but how long, it would take for him to shine underneath the playoff spotlight.

Now, he knows.

And he believes.

“I knew that our season was on the line,” Wall said. “Either our season is over or it’s not. I just wanted to come in totally locked in on both ends of the floor.”



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