Friday, it wasn't exactly John Wall playing through five fractures in his hand and wrist to to play, but it was the next best thing for the Wizards as they were trying to end a two-game slide against the Chicago Bulls.
Like he did in that playoff series two years ago, averaging a double-double in three games vs. the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals (18 and 10), Wall played through a left foot sprain that had his status in question before tipoff. After having knee problems as early as the fourth game last season, which would require surgeries to both a month after 2015-16 ended, Wall still averaged 19.9 points and 10 assists.
"I think going back into the fourth quarter I had maybe 18," Wall said of his assist total at the time. "So I knew I had a chance [to set a career-high]. I knew also that I had to play the right way because it was a close game so you just couldn't worry about those. Just try to get the win. If it was a blowout we could have just worried about it but it was a different kind of game. Luckily, I got it."
By that he means 20. It's a mark that Wall has come short twice this season with 19. He posted his career-high in a 112-107 win to go with his 14 points for his 45th double-double.
Wall's defense also was key in them holding the Bulls to just 40 first-half points. Rajon Rondo only had six points in 33 minutes. They allowed 67 points in the second half, but it at least was a start to better individual team defense for the Wizards who have struggled in that area.
Wall injured his left foot Wednesday in a bad fall against the Dallas Mavericks. He played through it and X-Rays revealed no damage, but he didn't practice Thursday or shootaround with his teammates Friday morning.
He never looked tentative but was more focused on getting stops and getting his teammates involved rather than getting his own shot early. Wall only had four attemptts in the first half.
Then when the score drew tighter as the Bulls cut into a 19-point deficit, Wall came through with layup at 5:21 for a 96-91 lead and assisted Otto Porter on a jumper.
After three consecutive buckets on drives by Bradley Beal, Wall got No. 20 on a lob to Marcin Gortat with 1:10 left to keep it a two-possession game. And then the point guard made all four of his free throws down the stretch.
For John Wall, 20th dime's the charm 🍀 pic.twitter.com/Y6IHT78QJN— NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) March 18, 2017
It's the type of grit that's to be expected from the four-time All-Star who is making a push to become an All-NBA player for the first time in his seven seasons and solidify his team as a top 3 seed for the postseason.
Wall didn't receive a single vote among 29 opposition general managers when asked who were the NBA's best passers. He's now averaging 10.9 assists which is second-best in the league. James Harden leads at 11.2 and the assist title is in range.
"That first half," said Wizards coach Scott Brooks of Wall's 12 assists, "was almost flawless. The defensive effort. Rondo is obviously a prober, and he can handle the ball and he can manipulate screen-and-rolls but John was there. ... There are only a few guys in the league that can dominate a game with passing only, and he's one of them."