After toughest semifinals loss yet, John Wall needs more help for Wizards
BOSTON — John Wall put on his sunglasses and walked slowly toward the team bus after the loss with a bitter taste in his mouth, albeit a different flavor despite losing for the third time in the past four years at the same spot on the same date: the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 15.
“This was tougher because it was Game 7,” Wall said. “This one hurts more.”
Wall was ineffective down the stretch, unable to take advantage of the speed that coaches around the league maintain is unparalleled. This was the guy who sent the Washington Wizards to a decisive seventh game on Monday night in Boston with a deep 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left, placing the franchise just 48 minutes away from reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1979.
Bradley Beal was sensational in the second half, finishing with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. But this Wizards team needed both of its two-headed backcourt in order to overcome Isaiah Thomas and the raucous crowd, and Wall looked gassed as the Boston Celtics pulled away with an 18-2 run that began late in the third quarter and carried over into the fourth in their 115-105 victory.
“He looked tired,” said Marcus Smart, one of Boston’s relentless perimeter defenders who took his turn on Wall throughout the series. “He was doing everything he has to do everything for them, and that wears on you.”
Wall was just 2-of-13 from the field in the second half, 1-of-8 from beyond the arc, and missed on his final 11 attempts. After a series in which he was the best player on the court, Wall’s speed went from warp to mortal.
“His legs,” Smart added. “He didn’t have his legs, and he was short on his shots.”
The sure-tell sign of fatigue.
But Wall offered no excuses. This was a team that was counted out early in the season as nine new players struggled to adjust to a new system by a new coach. Wall was coming off a pair of offseason knee surgeries and was dealing with a minutes restriction.
But Wall and Beal carried the Wizards to within one win of the Eastern Conference finals.
“It’s tough,” Wall said. “We came up short. Our goal was to get to the Eastern Conference finals, and we were one game short. I’m not satisfied.”
Now it’s time for Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld to get these young, talented guards — who have seemingly worked through whatever chemistry issues plagued them in the past — help in the frontcourt and off the bench.
“Forty-eight to five,” were Wall’s last words as he took the final walk to the bus.
“Forty-eight to five,” he repeated. “Our bench had five points.”
Boston’s bench finished with 48 points. Washington got just a handful of points — all from Bojan Bogdanovic.
The Celtics’ difference-maker came via the bench, the short-armed Canadian out of Gonzaga, Kelly Olynyk. It was Olynyk, and not Thomas, who took over in the fourth quarter with 14 points — and it wasn’t just wide-open jumpers and 3s. It was also a couple of nifty drives that resulted in layups that proved to be critical — including one that followed the Wizards’ cutting what had been an 11-point lead to just four with 6:10 remaining. Olynyk was a perfect 8-for-8 on field goal attempts inside the arc in Game 7 and a perfect 6-for-6 on contested field goal attempts.
“They have a lot of guys that play physical defense, and others guys who space the floor and knock down shots,” Wall said.
Wall is still young — 26 years old and just in his seventh season. Beal is 23 and just signed a max deal last offseason. These are the cornerstones of the organization and can be one of the elite backcourts in the league for the foreseeable future.
Otto Porter Jr., scheduled to be a restricted free agent this offseason, took a significant step in his fourth NBA season after being selected third overall in the 2013 NBA draft. Markieff Morris, whom the Wizards gave up a 2016 lottery pick to acquire in February 2016, played well this past season and battled an ankle injury throughout the series. Centers Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi are on the books for next season for a combined $29 million-plus.
While Boston’s Olynyk, Smart, rookie Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier all made significant contributions in Game 7, Washington’s cast of Mahinmi, midseason acquisition Brandon Jennings and Jason Smith put up the goose egg, and Kelly Oubre Jr. saw the floor for just six seconds after being a factor earlier in the series.
“We needed more from our bench,” Wall said.
Just a few minutes later, Smart took the same walk and smiled at Olynyk — already sitting in his car and waiting to go home. The duo combined for 39 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and four 3-pointers.
Off the bench.