John Wall and the Washington Wizards fell to the Boston Celtics 115-105 in Game 7 of a rugged Eastern Conference Semifinals, and it was a game in which Wall did not play his best.
Wall, who tallied 44 minutes in the contest, was visibly gassed towards the end, looking to eek out any ounce of energy he had left to help clinch his Wizards their first Eastern Conference Finals berth since 1978.
Those legs got heavy and the shots fell short as the wheels on the Wall Train stopped moving at the breakneck speed we had become accustomed to seeing all season long, stopping within arm’s-length of its destination.
After the loss Wall stated that there was nothing satisfactory to take away from this season due to the Wizards falling short of their ECF goal.
"It's very disappointing to us. Our goal was to get to the Eastern Conference Finals… It's not a satisfying season to me." -John Wall pic.twitter.com/Y5IdJDxWPY
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 16, 2017
In the last 19 minutes of Washington’s Game 7 defeat, Wall was scoreless, going 0-for-11 from the field and 0-for-7 from three. He was immediately the recipient of harsh critique from the social media masses, and takes were coming in so hot you’d think they were fresh off of mama’s stove.
If you’re going to critique Wall’s Game 7 numbers that’s fine, but that evaluation should feature the proper context which would shed light on why Wall was wobbly down the stretch when the Wizards needed him most.
As of today, Wall has tallied the most minutes out of any player this postseason at 507. He wasn’t afforded much rest during Washington’s playoff run due to the wafer thin depth of the Wizards, which is an issue that needs to be addressed this offseason if the Wiz hope to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference ranks.
The Wizards’ bench, composed of guys like Bojan Bogdanovic, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jason Smith, Brandon Jennings and Ian Mahinmi, clocked in as the lowest scoring bench unit this postseason, providing Washington with a pedestrian 23.8 points per game.
A respite for the Wizards’ starters was a rarity, but especially for Wall and teammate Bradley Beal. Washington does not have a high-level backup for either, and it really cost them in this series. Those two must’ve grown incensed watching Jennings dance around with the rock like he’s some type of basketball ballerina, only to make a head-scratching play just a moment later.
Let’s compare the output of both the Celtics and Wizards’ bench in the two squads’ seven-game showdown.
The Wizards’ starters played Boston’s almost dead-even, but the Celtics’ second unit seized the opportunities they were given to tilt the close contests in their team’s favor, with big contributions from a host of characters including Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynk, who proved to be Game 7’s hero with 14 of his career playoff high 26 points coming in the game’s final frame.
Boston’s bench proved they had both play and shot makers that could be relied on throughout the duration of a contest, while the luxury of bench reliability eluded Washington not only in this series but all season long.
Between Game’s 6 and 7, Wall played 85 out of a possible 96 minutes, a small interval of rest for someone being asked to score, facilitate and play elite-level defense against a high-powered Celtics offense that features one of the league’s fiercest scoring guards in Isaiah Thomas.
Compare Wall to Thomas, who played 77 out of a possible 96 minutes in the last two games of the series, and you see how much more of a workload Wall inherited between the two All-Star guards.
Wall didn’t have anyone to spell him for 29 minutes off the bench in Game 7 like Smart did Thomas, not if Washington had any hope of upending Boston in their building. Smart actually played more minutes off the pine in Game 7 than Washington’s top-two reserves, Bogdanovic and Mahinmi, combined.
Superstars should still be able to deliver when fatigue begins to settle in, which leads me to my next point: this type of disappointment is necessary for a talent like Wall and a team like his Washington Wizards.
This postseason marks Wall’s third appearance in the playoffs, and not only was this run his longest, but his strongest statistically as well.
Wall averaged playoff career-highs in points per game (27.2), field goal percentage (45%), three-point field goal percentage (34%) and PER (23.8). His 10.3 assists per game in the playoffs were just a smidgen below the 10.7 APG he averaged during the regular season, and his numbers ushered him into some elite point guard company.
PG's to average at least 25 pts-10 asts in the #NBAPlayoffs (min of 8 gms)
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) May 16, 2017
Superstardom isn’t easily obtained, and it entails hardships such as these. Every great this game has seen experienced some form of turbulence before being anointed a champion, and the arrangement it came in for Wall and the Wizards was a bitter game seven defeat to a newly established nemesis.
Wall says there is no contentment to be found in this season for the Wizards, but I’m here to challenge that notion. Washington started the season battered and broken, only to emerge like the Phoenix from the ashes to piece together a campaign worthy of a boisterous applause from the patrons of D.C.
They proved they’re a force to be dealt with for years to come and their guard pairing regained their footing in the “best backcourt” conversation, proving they deserve to be in the mix with names like Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum along with the Splash Brothers.
Beal, who will only be 24-years-old at the start of next year, had the best season of his career as far as health and metrics are concerned, and he proved that he can become the two-way, sharpshooting dynamo the Wizards hoped they’d be getting when they poured $128 million into the Bank of Beal last summer.
Washington has some patchwork to do with their bench and has to make a decision regarding the impending free agency of Otto Porter Jr., but they’re trending in the right direction. Falling one game short of the Conference Finals in Scott Brooks’ first year as head coach should excite Wall and the Nation’s Capital, and in a few years, we may reference this series as one of the major turning points for not only John Wall, but the entire Washington Wizards franchise.