The competitive relationship between John Wall and Isaiah Thomas goes back to their days playing in AAU. But in the NBA, it has been a mismatch as the Boston Celtics guard has won 10 of 11 of their meetings.
Thomas had 23 points, nine assists and four rebounds in just 28 minutes Monday as the Celtics (25-21) swept the season series with the Wizards 4-0. Wall had just eight points and 10 assists in 33 minutes as they blew a 41-34 lead in the second quarter, allowed Thomas to score the final five points to give Boston a 53-49 halftime advantage and nine points in the decisive third.
"I just started winning against Derrick (Rose) when he played. I didn't win against him. I didn't win against CP," said Wall of the Bulls' point guard and Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers. "Teams play hard. They play well. We just played like (expletive) and I played like (expletive).
The Wizards did well with Nene, who made his second start at power forward of the season next to Marcin Gortat. He covered Thomas on the pick-and-rolls, challenged shots that fell short over his 7-foot frame, playing good position defense. Marcus Smart didn't have much success, either.
But when Nene, who is playing on a minutes restriction because of a left calf strain that has bothered him all season, left the game the tone changed.
"He was the best at it," coach Randy Wittman said about contesting Boston's guards on the pick-and-roll actions with his help defense. "He was our best big at doing that. Our other bigs didn't challenge at all."
That's an unspoken dig at Gortat, of course.
Thomas stared at the Wizards' bench after he drained shots. He has friendly back and forths with Wall, but even when he was with the Phoenix Suns he won these matchups.
"Me and him we have no problem at all," Wall said. "When I was trying to become one of the best players in the country he was already known. ... When we're on the court it's all competitive trash talk between us. It's nothing serious. I have no problem with him. It's fun. He's always been a tough competitor, a tough matchup to play against because he's so small and quick. He has a lot of heart for somebody his size."
At 5-9, Thomas kept his dribble alive and used every ounce of his body weight to shield Wall from blocking him from behind. Half of Thomas' field goals (8 of 14) came at the rim as his shotchart from the game shows. Wall couldn't keep him in front of him.
"The biggest thing is Isaiah has just learned how to survive and thrive at his size. He's figured it out no matter who he's playing against. He's never playing against somebody his size," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "He's always had to play against bigger guys. There's not necessarily anything to that particular matchup that I would say that I can see. ... I just think Isaiah tries to figure it out. He uses his body well. He's got the ball on a string and he can shoot it well enough that you have to honor that and closeout to him."
On the flip side, Stevens changed his coverages on Wall. In their last meeting, won 119-117 by Boston, Wall torched them for a season-high 36 points as they went under on pick-and-rolls and gave him the mid-range shot. Not Monday. Wall shot 3-for-11.
"They did a great job adjusting their defensive coverages," Wall said. "I really didn't get a lot of looks that I had last game. They wanted (other) guys to make plays."
Bradley Beal went out in the second quarter with a likely concussion and broken nose and didn't return. Garrett Temple, who has started for him since returning on his minutes restriction, had his worst game in a while (0-for-7).
There weren't many other perimeter options for the Wizards, but yet another head-to-head battle goes to Thomas. Like Wall did last season when he had trouble getting the best of the Celtics and the Toronto Raptors, who they travel to play Tuesday, he has to forget about it and move on.
"That's my first two years (in the league). I thought about it," Wall said of his inability to win certain matchups. "When I play bad and the other person plays well, yes I'm really pissed. I'd be more happy if I play bad and we win. You play bad and you lose? You're really pissed."