John Wall’s pregame outfit was as strong a statement as his team’s victory over the Hawks
The Wizards guard donned a cape before and after Game 5 victory — then he and Bradley Beal came to the rescue
It was nearly two hours till game time when John Wall arrived at the Verizon Center on Wednesday, his burly bodyguard in tow.
All appeared normal with the Washington Wizards guard as he approached: His eyes were covered by a pair of stylish dark sunglasses, and two bright gold chains were draped around his neck.
But the big reveal came as he passed: What appeared to be a stylish T-shirt was backed by a camouflage cape, matching the duffel bag in his right hand.
It was an outfit so outlandish it might have led even Russell Westbrook to do a double take.
Like Westbrook, if you wear an outfit that’s over the top, you’d best deliver. And Wall did just that on Wednesday, with 20 points and 14 assists, to go along with 27 points from Bradley Beal, in Washington’s 103-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks to take a 3-2 lead in the opening-round playoff series.
There’s no doubt the Wall-Beal guard tandem is one of the best in the league. Each has proclaimed repeatedly, as early as 2014, that they are the best.
Many laughed back then when they said it. But today you can argue Wall and Beal aren’t that far behind the Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson combo with the Golden State Warriors, and right on par with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Toronto.
Wednesday night’s win proved that Wall and Beal can dominate even when they weren’t — at times — at their best. Wall’s double-double came on a night when he was scoreless in the first quarter (he did get his teammates involved with five assists). Beal scored 27 despite missing eight of nine 3-pointers (he did go 10-of-13 on his 2-point attempts) and added three steals and three blocks. Beal spent much of the night defending Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points and 11 assists as the German-born Hawks point guard continues to emerge as one of the best young talents in the league.
“Brad is — I say this often, and I don’t know how much traction it gets — he is one of the best two-way players in the league,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff and his teammates know that he locks up defensively, gives you great effort and an honest day’s work.”
You can also use “effort” and “an honest day’s work” to describe Wall, who has demonstrated continuing maturity over his seven-year career. His play this year, which resulted in his fourth All-Star appearance, is even more impressive when you consider that Wall had surgery on each of his knees in the offseason.
His knees have not been a problem this season, and that was evident with two minutes left in the third quarter when Hawks guard Kent Bazemore laid off Wall defensively near the top of the key. Wall exploded to the rim and dunked so hard over Mike Muscala with his left hand that even former Vice President Joe Biden got a little excited from his courtside seat.
“Whenever I get to my right foot,” Wall said of the dunk, “I like my chances against anybody.”
That pretty much summed up how many felt about the Wizards after they beat the Hawks in the first two games of this series: that they could match up against anybody in the East. Washington has the great backcourt in Beal and Wall. A solid, physical frontcourt led by Marcin Gortat. And enough depth that allowed them to win two of the three games they played against the Cleveland Cavaliers this season.
Are the Wizards good enough to beat the Cavs this postseason? With the way LeBron James has turned up his effort in the playoffs, that might be a stretch.
Are the Wizards good enough to play the Cavs in the conference finals? This team, which has reached the conference semifinals in three of the past four years, is good enough to take that next step. It would be a first for the franchise since 1979.
But two losses in Atlanta demonstrated that the Wizards are also vulnerable enough to lose a Game 6 on Friday, which would result in a Game 7 at Verizon Center on Sunday. And a lot could happen Sunday that could turn a postseason that began with so much promise for Washington into an early playoff exit.
“We’re confident,” Beal said about Friday’s game. “We have to have the same mentality and focus that we have here at home.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Wall, who strolled into his postgame news conference still rocking his cape. As he answered questions, his bodyguard stood off to his side, clutching his camouflage duffel.
“We know they have an amazing crowd,” Wall said of the Hawks. “And we know they’re definitely going to be loud.”
Finally finished with his Q&A, Wall stood up and headed for the door, his cape flapping with each step.
Somewhere, someone was likely hoping — praying — that John Wall makes a deep run into the postseason.
Just so we all can get a glimpse of what else he has in his closet.