Game 7 was always going to come down to the Washington Wizards’ superstars.
The Wizards’ run in the NBA playoffs had been filled with highlight-reel moments from John Wall, in particular. The former University of Kentucky star’s three-pointer that forced one final entry in this Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston was etched in the annals of franchise history the moment he flexed on top of the scorer’s table at Verizon Center in Game 6.
Since October, and throughout Washington’s historic season that ended with a 115-105 loss to the Celtics on Monday night, the Wizards had gone as Wall and Bradley Beal did.
They were a lethal pair when they were working together to run Washington’s offense. But Monday, the scale tipped too far in one direction. Wall didn’t score a single point in the final 19 minutes and Beal was left to win a shootout with the Celtics’ red-hot Kelly Olynyk in the fourth quarter by himself.
It was Beal’s best performance this series; he finally found holes in Boston’s stringent defense and turned in 38 points on 12-for-22 shooting from the floor, including five three-pointers. He hit nine of 10 free throw attempts, and still it wasn’t enough, with Wall bringing just 18 points on 8-for-23 shooting.
It was a bitter way for the team leader to end the season.
“The only other way I can really process is I wish I would have played better,” Wall said slowly. “Other than that, we had a heck of a season, heck of a series. We could look at this as motivation — but other than that, it’s kind of hard to think about right now.”
Entering Monday, the Wizards were 6-2 this postseason when Wall and Beal combined to score at least 50 points. But Wall’s points Monday night came at the wrong times.
Washington surrendered a six-point lead in the third quarter. After lapses in defense allowed the Celtics to tie the game at 72 with 4:55 left in the period, Wall had just four field goal attempts. Three of them were from beyond the arc.
“I’m more disappointed we lost more than anything,” Beal said, sitting next to Wall on the podium after the game. “I don’t care how well I played. … I hate losing. Especially when we felt like we were the better team. Credit them, they played their tails off each and every game, they competed their butts off, but this definitely hurts the most. We put ourselves in a great opportunity, a great situation. We gotta do a better job closing that out.”
Washington Coach Scott Brooks, bleary-eyed though he was, didn’t have to work hard to find a silver lining to the Game 7 loss. He noted that the Wizards will benefit from a 23-year-old Beal for years to come, and that Wall is still improving as well.
“When [Beal] moves, he has a flawless jumper,” Brooks said. “And his ability to attack the floor and attack the basket is only going to get better. … he has another decade of a lot of good basketball. Hopefully I won’t mess him up.”
And of his point guard, Brooks had nothing but love.
“Well, first thing, I thanked him,” Brooks said of his speech to Wall after the game. “I love him. I love how he plays. That guy is a true winner, plays with a lot of toughness, he’s exactly what you need to lead your team. He’s exactly what I need to be my point guard. I love the way he plays, I love the way he competes, and he’s only gonna get better. His outside shot has improved a lot in the past three or four years, and we’re gonna have a big summer getting that better and just — love the guy. Can’t say nothing more than I love him. Love how he competes, he’s really made strides being a good leader, and to me a good leader is not only talking about leadership, but it’s doing it and showing with your action. The future is bright because he’s leading us.”