Despite the fact that the Washington Wizards trail the top-seeded Raptors 1-0 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference series, Wall remains confident that the Wizards played far from their best basketball in Game 1, a 114-106 victory for Toronto.
What the Wizards’ point guard doesn’t know is when his All-Star explosiveness will return after missing two months because of knee surgery. But he’s certain he can still show what he can do, even if he’s not at full strength.
“I think I am there [speed-wise but] just having explosion, and being very explosive and those types of things, that is what I am still working on, to get my legs back underneath me,” Wall said Monday. “But other than that, just from me being out there and to do the things that I am doing without being at 100 percent shows what type of player I am.”
Playing in just his fifth game in a two-week span after returning from knee surgery, Wall still collected 23 points, 15 assists, four steals and two blocks in 39 minutes. Wall shot 6-for-20 from the field and was limited to one assist and five points while shooting 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter. And he had five turnovers, a couple of which left him frustrated well after the game.
Wall and the Wizards know they have to be better in the fourth quarter in Game 2 or else they could find themselves returning to Washington down 2-0. All-Star backcourt mate Bradley Beal, who logged a career-high 36.3 minutes this season while trying to keep the Wizards afloat with Wall out, was held to two of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
“We feel like we didn’t even play our best basketball,” Wall said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well from 3, they shot over 50 percent and we still gave ourselves a chance to win.”
“I basically got whatever I wanted,” Wall added of how he felt Toronto defended him. “I missed a couple of easy shots, a couple of easy layups. I felt like I got fouled on some of them. Some of them I still have to make those. Other than that, I got everything I wanted, I got shots, I got shots for my teammates, other than a couple of careless turnovers that I had I was frustrated with, I got everything I wanted.”
The Wizards understand that Wall is still making his way back to the level he was at last postseason when he averaged a dominant 27.2 points, 10.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks in leading the Wizards to a seven-game series loss to the Celtics in the second round.
“I think he is there,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of Wall’s speed. “I mean there’s definitely, when you miss nine weeks of the season, late in the season and come in and out of the lineup in the last six or seven games, it is not ideal but he fights through it and doesn’t make excuses. Not a lot of guys could have done what he has been able to do. There’s probably some rust that still needs to be taken off but overall, some of his turnovers, I know that those are things that he will be able to clean up and get better as the series goes on.”
Wall — whose four 15-assist games in the last four postseasons leads all players — didn’t have much trouble creating for his teammates in the first three quarters of Game 1, dishing 14 assists for 31 points heading into the fourth on Saturday. But the Raptors’ defense came up big at certain points. OG Anunoby helped hold Wall to 1-for-6 shooting early and Beal to 1-for-3 shooting in the first three quarters. Kyle Lowry then helped limit Wall and Beal to a combined 1-for-4 shooting in the fourth according to ESPN Stats and Info.
And while Lowry (11 points, nine assists, five turnovers) and backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan (17 points, zero in 4:52 fourth-quarter minutes) had their own offensive struggles at times, Toronto got major contributions from its role players. Serge Ibaka had 23 points and 12 rebounds, Anunoby scored 12 points and off the bench CJ Miles hit four 3-pointers and Delon Wright scored 18 points. The Raptors bench outscored the Wizards subs, 42-21. Toronto also hit 16 3-pointers.
Wall remains confident in Washington’s role players and their ability to be able to potentially turn the tables in Game 2. Washington’s second unit could get a boost from veteran point guard Ty Lawson, who was signed last week after playing overseas in China.
“We had a lot of open ones we missed, I had a few, John had a few, everybody,” Beal said. “The first game is out of the way, jitters out of the way, whatever it is, we can just go out and focus on us and play ball. We know how they are going to play and how they are going to adjust. First game is over.”
As for how Wall looked in his first playoff game after knee surgery, Lowry thinks the Wizards’ point guard’s current speed is “unbelievable.”
“Pssssh … Noooo … Did you watch the game?” Lowry said facetiously when asked about Wall coming off surgery. “He’s still pretty fast. I used to be that fast. When I was like 10.”
Wall is the engine that drives the Wizards. How explosive that engine will be remains to be seen but Wall felt some lift coming back to him in Game 1.
“I don’t know, it takes time to come,” Wall said. “Like I started to find my legs on some of my jump shots. Not playing is totally different than practicing and being able to jump in workouts is totally different than game [action] because I am playing constantly like this, like this, like this and competing at a high level so it takes a little time.
“I am fine with that. But one thing I have learned about myself is that I don’t just need my speed and athleticism to play in this league. I can still get by people without going super fast and find my teammates and be able to finish at the rim so I can have a longer career than what most people do when their athleticism goes away.”