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Well, this sucks: the Washington Wizards announced Thursday that the left wrist injury that kept All-Star point guard John Wall out of Game 2 of his team's second-round series with the Atlanta Hawks might be significantly more serious than we'd first thought.
From the Wizards' team statement:
Wizards guard John Wall underwent multiple examinations yesterday that revealed five non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand.
Wall and the team are currently in consultation with multiple physicians and specialists to determine the best course of action and his playing status has yet to be determined. Further updates will be provided as information becomes available.
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We'll take the "yet to be determined" playing status at face value, and we'll certainly hold out hope for the best. But ... I mean ... damn, man. Five fractures? That seems like an awful lot of fractures.
And to keep Wall — a respected gamer who had played in 219 consecutive games prior to missing some time at the end of the regular season to rest up for the playoffs — out of the lineup, you know it's got to be painful:
Wittman on Wall: "I’m not BS’ing you guys. I’ve been around this game for 30 years and he’s the toughest. Toughest kid I’ve been around. "
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) May 7, 2015
Wall suffered the injury during the second quarter of Game 1 against the Hawks last Sunday, hitting the deck hard after missing a fast-break layup contested by Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague:
Despite clearly being in pain, Wall stayed in the game, returning with a taped wrist after a timeout and continuing to attack the Hawks defense. He contributed 12 points, eight assists, five rebounds, three blocks and a steal after wrecking his wrist, leading the Wizards to a 104-98 win over the top-seeded Hawks that improved Washington's road playoff record to a remarkable 8-1 over the past two postseasons and gave Randy Wittman's Wiz home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Despite experiencing significant swelling in the wrist and being officially listed as doubtful for Game 2, Wall attempted to give it a go on Tuesday night. But after a brief pre-game warmup made it clear that he couldn't be as effective dribbling the ball as he'd like, Wall became a late scratch, forcing the Wizards to enter Game 2 without their top offensive facilitator and leader.
Wall's replacement in the starting lineup, Ramon Sessions, came through in a major way, scoring a career playoff high 21 points with four assists and three rebounds. But the Hawks put away the short-handed Wizards late, scoring a 106-90 victory that evened up the series at one game apiece.
After the game, as Kyle Weidie of Wizards blog Truth About It notes, Wizards players' comments seemed to indicate that they might be getting ready to go back into war without Wall in Game 3:
Pierce and Temple both said they feel they can beat the Hawks without Wall. They feel like they let one go.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) May 6, 2015
A lot of 'without Wall' Wizards locker room talk. Like they are preparing for the worst. https://t.co/rOxNVzrI3O
— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) May 6, 2015
Despite his protestations that it was just a "really bad sprain," his insistence on getting multiple opinions and his plan to receive extensive treatment during the lengthy break between Games 2 and 3, Wall himself didn't sound totally sure what would come next, according to Michael Lee of the Washington Post:
When asked if he would be available for the next game, Wall said, “I can’t really say. . . . God has a plan with what He’s doing, and all I can do is keep getting treatment and try to get better and prepare myself like I’m playing Game 3.” [...]
“I love the game of basketball,” Wall said as he walked toward the bus, hoodie covering his head, sunglasses blocking his eyes. “And you never know how long you can play or when your last NBA game could be. I know how much I mean to the city of D.C. I know what I mean to my city, and my family and God blessed me with the talent to play, so I know how much it means. The city’s been behind me through tough times and good ones.”
With Wall's status uncertain, the city will have to get behind the rest of the Wizards in what figures to be a trying period. John Wall is really, really good, and the Wizards' drop-off without him is difficult to overstate.
Wall finished second in the NBA in total assists and assists per game during the regular season, earning his second straight Eastern Conference All-Star berth and his first-ever starting nod. Only the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul produced more points per game for his team by assist than Wall did during the regular season, and nobody's even come close to matching Wall's productivity in that department during the playoffs:
Points per game created by assists in the playoffs... 1. John Wall - 30.8 2. Griffin, Barea - 18.8 http://t.co/HO8nR90riz
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 7, 2015
He's produced 55 3-point attempts for teammates in five playoff games, with his talent for bending and puncturing the opposing defensive scheme — especially with Wittman showing an increased willingness to play smaller this postseason, with Paul Pierce and Drew Gooden acting as stretch fours, creating much more space for him to penetrate and probe — fueling the surprising bombs-away approach that propelled the Wizards past the Toronto Raptors in a first-round sweep.
When you add Wall's production via assist that to the 17.4 points per game he's averaging himself, you realize that the Wizards are losing nearly half of their total postseason point production with the former Kentucky star out of the lineup. He's been an offense unto himself; now, Wittman and company must figure out how to generate offense without him. They haven't been so successful at doing that.
The Wizards were 12.5 points per 100 possessions better during the regular season with Wall in the lineup than out of it. They've been 15.1 points-per-100 better with him during the playoffs, with their offense in particular falling off a cliff — 115.7 points-per-100, head and shoulders above the best marks in the league, in Wall's 191 minutes of play, compared to 96-per-100, in the crawl space between the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks' league-worst regular-season marks, in 102 minutes without Wall.
Those nitty-gritty statistics dovetail nicely with the bigger-picture view of how the Wiz have fared without Wall during his career:
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) May 7, 2015
If Wall's unable to return, Wittman will have to rely more on Sessions and shooting guard Bradley Beal to take on an even greater share of ball-handling and playmaking responsibilities. He could also turn to late-season acquisition Will Bynum, who hasn't seen much tick since joining the Wizards after returning from the Chinese Basketball Association in late March, but who has been a capable pick-and-roll playmaker in the past.
The coach will need Otto Porter to continue making plays on both ends of the floor, and he'll need Pierce to take up the leadership mantle. He'll have to get bigger performances from the interior duo of Marcin Gortat, who battled foul trouble en route to just 10 points in Game 2, and Nene, who shot 67.9 percent from the field against the Hawks during the regular season, but has missed all nine of his field-goal attempts in this series, with Washington getting outscored by 18 points in his 45 minutes of work through two games.
Even if all that comes together, though, the Wizards will face an awfully task — notching three more wins against a very good, if beatable, Hawks club without their unquestioned top gun.
“Definitely you miss Wall. That’s an all-star starter, our best player. Of course you miss him, but we’re not going to cry foul and use it as an excuse because we feel like we can beat them with what we have,” Pierce told Lee of the Post after Game 2. “This is a confident group. We feel like we can beat anybody with whoever we put out there.”
Unfortunately for all of us who are sick of injuries impacting these playoffs and who loved watching Wall act as perhaps the East's second best player in this postseason, we may now have to find out whether Pierce is right.
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