WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks knew John Wall would be back to his explosive, elite self for the playoffs when the All-Star point guard was able to play 38 minutes in a regular-season loss at Cleveland.
It took Wall one additional outing to be absolutely certain he’ d be OK after coming back from surgery on his left knee, pointing to his 29-point, 12-assist effort against Boston five days later.
“I had a big game,” he said Monday, looking back at that victory from a couple of weeks ago. “Kind of just started to see shots fall that I was falling short on the couple of games I had before that.”
As Wall prepares to lead the No. 8 seed Wizards into Game 5 against the No. 1 seed Raptors on Wednesday night in Toronto, it is as if he never was away for more than two months. As if he never needed that operation in the first place. As if he got a chance to ramp up for the postseason for more than merely four games.
And all of that outside chatter about whether Washington might just be better off without him, based on the team going 8-2 at the start of his absence in January and February, sure seems silly right about now. Especially after Wall carried Washington to a 106-98 victory in Game 4 on Sunday night by scoring eight of the host’s last 14 points and adding an assist — plus tight defense on DeMar DeRozan — after Bradley Beal fouled out with about five minutes left.
Did it while playing all 24 minutes in the second half, too. Plus, Wall revealed Monday that he twisted his right ankle down the stretch, although he declared himself fine.
“It’s always pulling teeth to try to get him off the court,” Brooks said. “I like that. As a coach, you want that.”
Now Washington will need to grab a victory on the road at least once to claim a series in which the home team has won every game so far.
“You put John Wall on this team for 82 games,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, “and I guarantee they wouldn’t be eighth.”
Instead, Wall appeared in only 41 games this season, missing all four that Washington played against Toronto. But he sure is looking good when the games count the most.
He is averaging 26.8 points, 13 assists and 4.8 rebounds in the series.
And here’ s an obscure, yet telling, stat offered up by the Wizards: Wall joined Magic Johnson as the only players with at least 27 points, 14 assists and six rebounds in two consecutive playoff games.
“It was just a matter of time before he got back to himself,” Wizards forward Markieff Morris said. “He just needed to get some games under his belt. Basically, just get his feet under him, get his wind back, and he would get back to how he was playing. Because he’s a competitor.”
That aspect of Wall’ s persona came out when he was trading barbs with Canadian rapper Drake during the series’ first two games in Toronto, when the Raptors were taking a 2-0 lead.
“I told him to be here for Game 3. He told me he was going to be here. Didn’t show up. He told me we were getting swept and he had the broom for us,” Wall said. “I wanted him to know they weren’t going to sweep us.”
Associated Press writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed to this report.
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