Denzel Valentine was in the midst of the best game of his barely-born professional basketball career, feeling as good about himself as he has since putting on a Chicago Bulls jersey for the first time. And so, after knocking down his fifth 3-pointer of Tuesday night to give the Bulls a 92-85 lead over the Washington Wizards with 7:38 to go in the fourth quarter, the first-round pick out of Michigan State decided to style and profile just a little bit:
— J. Michael (@JMichaelCSN) January 11, 2017
And that’s when the rookie learned a very valuable lesson about life in the NBA. You don’t spit into the wind, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, and …
… you don’t wake the monster.
John Wall didn’t take too kindly to the freshman dancing at half-court in his gym, and he made sure the Bulls knew it. The All-Star point guard led a late fourth-quarter charge to erase what had been an 18-point lead and knot the game up at 99 with less than one minute remaining. After a missed jumper by Bulls guard Michael Carter-Williams with 30 seconds remaining, the Wizards had the ball and a chance to take the lead in the closing ticks. So, naturally, they turned to their monster …
… and he said goodnight to the Bulls.
Wall dribbled around a high screen from center Marcin Gortat that plastered MCW, and attacked the open space ahead of Robin Lopez to put the Bulls big man on his heels. Then, he pulled up from 16 feet out, fading back and splashing through a jumper with 5.9 seconds left to put Washington up 101-99.
Wall then turned his go-ahead bucket into a game-winner. He skied to corral Doug McDermott’s missed attempt at 3-point answer on the other end and, after Lopez forced a tie-up with just a few tenths of a second left, Wall beat the 7-footer to the jump ball, tipping it to Gortat as the clock ran out, sealing a two-point victory.
The Wizards have now won three straight, six of eight, and 12 of 17 to improve to 19-18 on the season. This marks the first time Washington’s been above .500 in more than a year, since sitting at 6-5 on Nov. 24, 2015, and Scott Brooks and company owe quite a bit of that modest milestone to Wall.
The point guard’s strong start (12 points on eight shots, nine assists, four rebounds before halftime) helped the Wiz stay within hailing distance early despite allowing an undermanned Bulls team missing Dwyane Wade (scheduled rest), Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic (both out due to illness) to shoot 8-for-10 from 3-point land en route to 61 points before intermission. He teamed with shooting guard Bradley Beal to turn the tide in the third quarter, with both backcourt stars playing all 12 minutes and combining to score or assist on 28 of Washington’s 32 points in a frame that saw the Wiz turn a 12-point deficit into a four-point advantage entering the fourth.
And with the game in the balance in the final minute, Wall was there to answer the call. He knocked down a contested midrange jumper with 47 seconds left to tie the game at 99 before seizing the moment for what, remarkably, was the first game-winning shot of his seven-year NBA career, according to Candace Buckner of the Washington Post:
“I’ve been in situations plenty of times where I have missed that shot or didn’t have the confidence to even take it,” Wall told The Post after scoring 26 points and contributing 14 assists.
“But I felt confident with that one and I glad we got a stop and won the game.”
And, in the process, ensured that first-year visitor Valentine — who led six Bulls in double-figures with a season-high 19 points on 5-for-11 3-point shooting — left D.C. with a greater appreciation for the dangers of dancing before the deed’s done. More from Buckner:
Though the Wizards responded with a 10-0 run after Valentine’s shimmy, Wall wasn’t talking about the team as he warned Valentine. The monster he was referring to — was John Wall.
“Yeah, I am,” Wall said. “I was talking about me.”
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