In the moments after the Washington Wizards kept their season alive with a heart-stopping 92-91 victory over the Boston Celtics inside a raucous Verizon Center, John Wall lost his mind. He leaped onto the scorer’s table, popped his jersey and egged on the crowd. He was letting the entire world know what he was thinking: This was his town, his court, his night.
It’s easy to understand why. This was the moment — the feeling of hitting a game-winning shot in an elimination game, keeping his team’s season alive and giving the Wizards a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since well before Wall was born with a win Monday in Boston — that Washington’s superstar point guard has been craving for his entire career.
“It’s my life,” Wall said in his walk-off interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters. “This is my life. This is what I asked for.
“All we’ve got is one game left to go to the conference finals. I couldn’t ask for more."
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In what has become a golden age for NBA point guards, Wall has seen so many of his contemporaries create moments that have come to define them. Stephen Curry has won two MVP awards and a championship (and likely will soon have a second). Russell Westbrook spent this entire season shocking people with his sensational stat lines. Chris Paul hit the floater over Tim Duncan to lift the Los Angeles Clippers out of the first round in 2015. Kyrie Irving hit the three-pointer that won the NBA Finals last season, bringing a championship to Cleveland for the first time in a half-century. Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beater at home against the Houston Rockets to advance out of the first round in 2014 was a catalyst for stardom in Portland.
Before Friday night, Wall had no such bullet point on his résumé. He’s been a terrific player and a multi-time All-Star, but one who has toiled in relative obscurity on a fairly nondescript Wizards team that’s now advanced to the second round in the East three times in the last four years — something only the Cleveland Cavaliers have done — but has been short on memorable moments.
Wall has that now. His shot will be played again and again for years to come and will be remembered as an iconic moment for a franchise that hasn’t had many of them outside of the 1970s. It is the forever moment that Wall has longed for, and now has on his ledger for good.
This season has been about so many things for Wall — from proving that missing the playoffs last year was a fluke to showing free agents who passed over the Wizards last summer they made a mistake to overcoming the surgeries he had on both knees last summer that many feared would rob him of his explosiveness.
He’s done all of that and then some. He will be an All-NBA guard for the first time in his career, get a hefty new shoe deal this summer and be eligible to sign a massive long-term contract extension that would keep him in Washington for the rest of his prime.
All that was left for Wall to do was what so many of his peers already had, to force his way into the hearts and minds of every basketball fan by producing on the game’s biggest stage.
With one flick of the wrist Friday night, Wall did so, capping off brilliant performances from himself (26 points, eight assists) and co-star Bradley Beal (33 points), both ensuring this season would last for at least another game and that the Celtics didn’t get to follow through with their wish to bury the Wizards by showing up wearing all-black funeral attire to Friday’s game.
“I ain’t going home,” Wall said. “We worked too hard for this.
“All we asked for was a Game 7. That’s all we asked for.”
Wall made sure the Wizards will get their shot at a Game 7 by making the kind of shot he has spent his career hoping to get the chance to make.
What it doesn’t do, however, is move the Wizards on to the Eastern Conference finals. That requires another win Monday in Boston — a place the Wizards have already lost five times this season, including three in this series. Winning that game, with Isaiah Thomas on the other side and the Celtics having their home crowd roaring behind them, could very well take another moment like the one Wall delivered to Washington Friday.
But as Wall leaped onto the Verizon Center scorer’s table and celebrated Friday night, letting everyone know who was in charge of that building, and that city, that was the last thing on his mind. The Wizards had won, and Wall had led them there.
His forever moment had finally arrived.