By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
WASHINGTON — Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal hit the shots. John Wall hit the open man.
Trevor Booker and Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster ran the floor. John Wall ran the show.
Funny thing is, Wall was far more flashy and flamboyant, far more noticeable on Friday in Game 3 — double crossover dribbles that left defenders cross-eyed, one-handed slam dunks on breakaways, even a missed layup following a 360-degree spin that might have been the most breathtaking move of the night.
Of course, the Wizards lost Game 3 and they needed a different Wall on Sunday, one who was less soloist standing apart from the orchestra and more conductor standing in front of it.
No-no Nene. No-no problem, because Wall managed the way the Wizards played at both ends of the floor the way a surgeon manages an operating room.
“That’s a good word,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “That’s exact word I just used in there with the team. I think this series he’s managed the game.
“He understands who needs the ball, where the need it, who has got it going, where to attack and be aggressive himself and then, the most important thing for us against this team, is taking care of the ball. When we have six turnovers for the game and two in the second half, if we can get a shot every time down the floor, I’ll be really pleased with where we are at in the game.”
Where the Wizards are at following their 98-89 win in Game 4 is holding onto a 3-1 lead over the Bulls and on the cusp of their first playoff series win since in nine years. In fact, Washington as a franchise has not held a 3-1 lead in any series since the 1978 Eastern Conference finals over San Antonio when the Bullets went on to win their only NBA championship.
Let’s not get too far ahead in the hyperbole since the Wizards have not yet even closed out Chicago. But the majestic learning curve is evident for the 23-year-old point guard in his fourth professional season getting his first taste of the playoffs.
This was a day full of emotion and import for the Wizards and they treated it from the start almost like it was a Game 7 with no margin for error.
“It was a must-win for us,” said Gortat. “Because if we lost this game, it means that winning the first two on the road in Chicago meant nothing.”
The were playing without their rolling ball of thunder power forward Nene, who got himself suspending for head-butting and trying to twist Jimmy Butler’s head like a grape off the stem on Friday night.
It was a game and an atmosphere so big that 57-year-old team owner Ted Leonsis got into the act by wearing a Nene jersey at courtside. It was a situation and a loss to their lineup so big that the Wizards had to make up for it by making all the small plays.
There was Gortat, scrapping, battling, hustling to keep balls alive off the glass even when he couldn’t make layups. There was Ariza doing everything he could to be disruptive at the defensive end when he wasn’t filling up the bucket for 30 points. There was veteran Andre Miller spotting Webster sealing off a smaller defender D.J. Augustin and finding him with a perfect lob pass. There was Drew Gordon slapping a sure dunk out of the hands of the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer. There was Booker making a desperate fourth quarter save by leaping over the end line and heaving the ball back over his head to Wall. There was Wall jumping into passing lanes for steals and deflections.
This is the way it often happens with the young prodigies, who have talent oozing out of their pores, but have to harness it for the sake of the team. In four NBA seasons, we have seen what Wall can do. Now he is learning what and how he must do it if his team is going to advance. It’s why a young Isiah Thomas used to go to the NBA Finals as a spectator to mine the nuggets of how Magic Johnson and Larry Bird became champions. It’s all a process.
“John is learning what we are playing for and understanding now what we are playing about,” said the veteran center Gortat. “You can’t trip in the playoffs too many times.
“Hopefully the playoff situation will teach these guys — John and Bradley — something and next year in the regular season they are going to perform like that every game. Because it really shows what they’re made of. These two guys are extremely talented, extremely competitive and hopefully they will play like that every game.
“I see the difference. John especially is learning what it means to lead. There are many nights when we will need him to score and do all of those great things. But every night we need him to be in charge.”
Managing to move ahead.