WASHINGTON, D.C. — As he stood above the masses with the King’s in the Fourth’s crown on his head, John Wall declared himself ruler of his domain.
“I ain’t going home!” Wall screamed from the top of the scorer’s table. “This is our house!”
Moments removed from burying the game-winning three in Avery Bradley’s eye, Wall was exploding to greatness in his crowning moment. He had been battling Isaiah Thomas for the title of the greatest point guard in the East all year. Friday night, he ascended the throne and declared the East semis his for the taking.
After the Celtics showed up to Game 6 dressed in all black, Wall closed the game with the furor of a great conqueror; a demigod that would make Genghis Khan tremble in fear.
“Don’t come to my city wearing all black, talking about, ‘It’s a funeral,’” Wall told ESPN moments after the game ended. “We worked too hard for this and all we asked for is a Game 7, 50-50. We do it for these unbelievable fans. Without these guys, we wouldn’t have won this game.”
A crowd that is often accused of being underwhelming was invigorated by an incredible fourth quarter battle, pushing Wall to reach new heights. It was the first time Wall hit a go-ahead three in the final 10 seconds in his career, per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.
It was the first time the Wizards fought off elimination at home in seven tries, dating all the way back to 1997, breaking the longest streak in NBA history. The fans erupted in chants screaming, “The curse is broken!” as Wall showered in the adulation.
This moment was a culmination of a challenge from his opponent and his previous limitations. Even this year, teams still game-planned to sit back on Wall, daring him to shoot. But with his season on the line and the best on-ball defensive guard in the league in front of him, Wall shocked everyone but himself.
“Looked the defender in the eye and took a shot that I work on and it went in,” Wall said. “To get on the scorer’s table is for how much love I have for this city, how much love I have for my teammates, how much fight we have and never quitting.”
Wall said the Celtics returning the provocative favor of dressing in all black infected his mind throughout the night. He couldn’t shake the feeling of disrespect and arrogance, that the opponent he had dismantled two games ago could be so presumptuous as to think they could roll through his fortress to a sea of white flags.
CelticsBlog asked coach Scott Brooks if the players had an extra edge after the news that the Celtics were attending their funeral reached the locker room.
“Yeah, I’m gonna talk to my lawyers. I think we have that trademarked, right? That’s our thing,” Brooks joked. “Players can have fun wearing what they want to the game. I wear my Wizards sweats. Grey ones. Or Blue.”
Despite frequent prodding from fellow reporters and yours truly, the Celtics would not admit they purposefully dressed in black until Jae Crowder let it slip at the very end of the night. The Wizards took almost as much offense to the lack of ownership than the implication itself.
Markieff Morris claimed the Celtics did it because they wanted to be like the Wizards and were jealous. But in the end, it took a miracle from Wall to defend their honor.
“He put us on his back,” said
Marcus Markieff Morris, “and that’s why he’s a superstar.”
The play was, of course, a broken one; the only type of scenario that could prompt Wall to throw out the script and deliver his magnum opus.
“The last play was really for me to get to the corner and Brad to come open,” Wall said. “But he didn’t get a chance to get open and I didn’t want a five second violation, so I just came to get the ball from Otto.”
He improvised, setting up what looked like a feint left and a crossover right. But right when Bradley backpedaled just out of reach of Wall, he rose and fired away. It was as surprising yet premeditated as can be, a risk that looks dangerous to all but the one with the ball in his hands.
“We had our best on-ball defender on their All-Star,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “We’re going to guard it as hard as we can and shake his hand and move on.”
“Not many guys can do that,” Brooks said. “He’s a winner. He plays to win. He’s not worried about his stats. He’s worried about winning.”
Wall’s fate changed during a timeout with 1:15 left. Isaiah Thomas had just rattled off consecutive jumpers to sandwich a Wall brick on a pull-up. It looked as though the King in the Fourth was doing what he has done all year.
Then Brooks made the call to blitz.
When the Celtics inbounded to Thomas off the timeout, Wall and Morris trapped Thomas into the corner, forcing a bad pass turnover. Washington ran out in transition as Beal took the ball down court and stepped into his first three of the game.
“We were gonna blitz them period,” Bradley Beal said when asked by CelticsBlog of the crucial Thomas turnover. “He just made two big shots. I mean we gotta get the ball out of his hands one way or another. We got some tall athletic guys. Coach said blitz him. He can’t really see over our guys, so we forced a turnover. Marc came up with it. In transition, guys are trying to matchup. Guys are scrambling. The clock’s running down, so I kind of took advantage of it. Rose up and knocked it down.”
Thomas was asked what he saw on that play, to which he admitted he made a crucial mistake.
“I mean, after (Marcus) Smart got that charge, the next play they just went all out and [were] trapping. I had nowhere to go. I have to be better in that situation. They did a really good job of doing that. They trapped me and then took away the next pass as well. They hadn’t really been doing that all game and we weren’t alert. I mean, I wasn’t alert as well. That's definitely on me. I got to do a better job in that situation.”
The next play, IT tried to square up Wall, but John got his fingertips on the ball and forced yet another turnover. A quick outlet from Gortat gave Wall a window of opportunity for one of his trademark tidal wave fast breaks to draw a foul. He drilled both free throws to tie it at 87.
After the Bradleys traded blows, Wall had a perfect contest on a switch on Horford. But Horford somehow buried a baseline bank shot in his eye to take the 91-89 lead. This set up the final shot from Wall and the rest was history.
Now Wall’s Wizards will get the chance they so desperately fought for.
“It’s only right. I think the NBA world wanted to see it. I think both teams wanted to see it,” Wall said. “It’s only right to get a Game 7 after all that went on this season.”
This is the defining moment of two careers exploding to national galore with Wall and Thomas. One will leave a valiant warrior. The other will continue to march on, with the entire NBA world’s focus squarely on their shoulders.
“That’s where all the great players make their name,” Thomas said. “You gotta give it everything you’ve got. That’s where legends are born. We are excited.
“It hurts right now because we just lost, but we have nothing to hang our heads down about. We are going to take a few days to figure out our adjustments and then win Game 7.”
These two small giants will duke it out one last time for a chance to face the original King of the East in LeBron James.
From the ashes of this bizarre and intense series will arise a legend. Now it all comes down to one final battle.