By Josh Powell
John Wall and the Wizards can do well on both sides of the court. The problem is, they either explode or go anemic.
Friday night’s matchup against the Phoenix Suns was a perfect example. Minutes before the first quarter drew to a close, the rookie point guard had racked up nine assists. Before the first twelve minutes of the game expired, members of the media were searching the Wizards’ record books for the assist record. Wall would not get there as the record was 24, set by Kevin Porter back in 1980.
Adding to the lustre of this game is the fact Wall was not matched up against a lesser point guard. The Suns’ Steve Nash is second on his team with 17.1 points per game in addition to his 25 steals and his impressive 415 assists. Those numbers show him averaging a double-double with 17.1 points and 10.9 assists per game and he has been considered one of the elite point men in the game for the past decade.
The first quarter was dominated by Wall though. While the play-caller had those nine rebounds in the first quarter though, he only went 1-of-3 shooting for two points, but he was in double-digit assist numbers before the half drew to a close.
“We have to be opportunistic,” said Saunders before the game. “You’re going to have to score against them, because of the way they play… You’ve got to make sure you stay aggressive, not passive.”
But Wall should have learned something from playing against the better man. In no quarter were his numbers especially explosive. He picked apart the defense and found more seams as the game went on. He finished with 17 points and 14 assists.
Fellow guard Nick Young also added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“Steve Nash,” said Flip Saunders, “that’s what he does. He puts so much pressure on you that if you give him any kind of help at all … he just got into a rhythm.”
It has been a plague all season for the Wizards. They have explosive quarters, even halves, but they cannot sustain it. The Suns found a rhythm when Washington could not.
“It was the first time ever we had three guys with four minutes to go in the first quarter ask to come out,” said Saunders. “They were so tired because they weren’t used to playing at that pace. I don’t know if that caught up to them, as far as a little bit, but it is a tougher pace.
At least Nash was held to less than the 17-assist, 20-point night he had back on December 5.
Even looking beyond the impressive point guard matchup Friday, Young had similar problems. He scored 20 points in the first half, then, playing more than 10 minutes, only scored three points in the third.
Wall eventually found his double-double with 14 assists and 11 points but the third-quarter offensive meltdown, when the Wizards starters combined for 15 points as the Suns tallied 31, was too much to overcome. Late numbers by Wall were worthless at that point.
The Wizards’ intensity, and their scoring with it, either seems to be bursting at the seams or treacherous. But looking at the team, everything can change in a heartbeat.
Game note: Kirk Hinrich left the game after hearing a pop in his right arm. He went to the locker room to have it examined. Nothing was conclusive during postgame interviews.