It’s hard to imagine John Wall as one who lacks self-assurance. He has an iced-out necklace with a charm that reads ‘Wall Star’ and the only thing flashier than his jewelry is his game.
The former University of Kentucky star might bust a pirouette while whipping a pass to a teammate or look away just before launching a lob at the rim, which is all to say he has an acute sense for entertainment. He’s comfortable sprinkling pizzazz throughout the playbook. And yet after the Wizards’ 101-99 win over the Chicago Bulls, he admitted how he has sometimes been more of a wall flower.
In his professional career, Wall had never accomplished something like he did Tuesday night. Even stranger, he might not have had the belief in himself to do so.
With closing seconds remaining in a tied game, Wall pulled up in front of the Wizards’ bench. As he elevated, seven-foot center Robin Lopez left his feet as well. Wall simply leaned away from the lunging giant’s hand and lofted a 16-foot jump shot. After the ball found the rim, falling through the net, Wall hopped from his sweet spot and went searching for familiar faces. In that moment, Wall had added a first in his seven-year NBA résumé: he had knocked down a game-winning shot.
“I’ve been in situations plenty of times where I have missed that shot or didn’t have the confidence to even take it,” Wall told The Post after scoring 26 points and contributing 14 assists.
“But I felt confident with that one and I’m glad we got a stop and won the game.”
Though previously Wall might have blown a chance like this, this season he has redefined himself as a clutch performer. According to NBA.com, Wall ranks fourth in the league with 89 points scored in the final five minutes of a game in which the Wizards are ahead or behind five. In those situations, Wall is shooting 45 percent from the floor and knocking down 86.8 percent of his free throw attempts. Without an Ariza or a Pierce on the roster, Wall has needed to step in and be a closer. Credit goes to a maturing Wall, but also to Coach Scott Brooks for entrusting him in close games.
“No matter how bad you played through the whole game, in the fourth quarter in the last six or five minutes you can still win the game for us,” Wall said, repeating Brooks’s words, “and that’s the kind of approach I’ve been having in the fourth quarter.”
In his two earlier opportunities to hit the go-ahead or game-winning bucket this season, the ‘Wall Star’ dimmed in the spotlight. On Oct. 30 in Memphis, he threw up a wild, off-balance runner at the buzzer and the Wizards eventually lost in overtime. Nearly a month later against the Sacramento Kings, he faded from the moment — quite literally — by deciding to fall back with a jump shot attempt instead of attacking in the closing seconds of a tied game.
Tuesday night showed progression. After the Wizards stopped the Bulls on defense and Brooks didn’t call timeout, it was Wall’s move from there. He was calm. He wasn’t looking to pass. He wanted the shot.
“John needs to continue to build on making the right plays,” Brooks said. “I thought he made the right play on shooting that.”
However on the play before his go-ahead jumper, Wall almost made the wrong decision. With under a minute to play, Brooks thought Wall had the lane to attack, but he almost bobbled away the possession by passing to Marcin Gortat. That’s the kind of move Wall, being not so sure in himself, would have made in the past. However once he recovered the ball, Wall made up for it with an 18-foot pull-up jumper. Confidence restored.
But truly on this night, and throughout the season, his confidence has topped the charts. Take for instance his reaction to rookie Denzel Valentine’s innocent fourth-quarter celebration.
Valentine knocked down a three to put his team up seven points and like any happy young player, did a little dance. Wall, recalling the story after the game, said he “felt some way about it” so of course, he shared some words with Valentine.
“I just walked over… and said ‘that’s how you feel?’ I said ‘you woke a monster.’”
Though the Wizards responded with a 10-0 run after Valentine’s shimmy, Wall wasn’t thinking about the team as he warned Valentine. The monster he was referring to — was John Wall.
“Yeah, I am,” Wall said “I was talking about me.”
When Wall hit his big shot, and walked to the sideline to find his family and friends. Over the screams of an announced crowd of 14,361, Wall exclaimed: “This is why were here!” It’s taken many years, but the Wizards have a new monster to unleash in the fourth quarters. John Wall is here.