John Wall gets the better of former Kentucky backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe
John Wall might have let the head-to-head matchup with Eric Bledsoe, his former backcourt partner at Kentucky, get the best of him.
In the second quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, Wall dribbled the ball right out of his own hands, a turnover that led to an uncontested Bledsoe dunk at the other end of the court.
But just as Wall tried to do too much early, Bledsoe overcompensated late filling in for injured Chris Paul, slipping as he dribbled along the baseline. When the ball found its way to Wall for his own wide open left-handed jam, the Wizards had a 10-point lead, enough to help close out a 98-90 victory before 16,246 at Verizon Center.
Even if it came with Blake Griffin on the bench with a sore left hamstring, the Wizards (12-35) ended an eight-game losing streak to the Clippers (34-16) and a four-game skid overall with their fourth win of the season over a division leader. The struggling Clippers lost for the seventh time in nine games.
"When we play the way we're capable of playing, we can compete with the top teams," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "These guys have proved it all year, injury or no injury."
Martell Webster paced the Wizards with 21 points, including a season-high five 3-pointers on six attempts. Garrett Temple, in his fourth straight start for the injured Bradley Beal (sprained right wrist), added a season-high 15 points, three steals and three blocks as five Wizards scored in double figures.
The Wizards made quick work of the Clippers' depleted lineup, hitting seven of their first eight shots. Temple hit four in a row to start, and Washington needed less than six minutes to achieve a 19-9 lead. They finished the quarter up 24-16 and more importantly didn't allow their offense to dry up in the second period, in which they had averaged 10 points in each of their three previous games.
Wall (13 points, eight assists) traded playmaking with Bledsoe (17 points, nine assists) but had the final say before halftime, using a hesitation move before leaning in and converting a tough, one-handed floater for a 51-46 halftime lead.
"We're talking the whole time," Wall said. "Sometimes it might be friendly; sometimes it's not. But we know we just want to make each other better. We played against each other a lot in practice in college. It's just like being back out there and just trying to prove something to each other."
While Jamal Crawford (28 points) carried the Clippers, Wittman needed no prompting to yank Jordan Crawford and leave him on the bench the entire second half after he launched a contested shot from five feet behind the 3-point line.
The Wizards scored the first seven points of the second half for their biggest lead but allowed the Clippers to reel off an 11-0 run to close within 58-57. A monster slam by DeAndre Jordan (seven points, career-high 22 rebounds) followed by a Bledsoe jumper gave the visitors their first lead.
"We seemed to forget how we scored the 51," Wittman said. "If my forehead's red, [it is from] banging the wall."
Webster defied the unraveling around him with a pair of 3-pointers as the Wizards took a 72-66 advantage into the final quarter.
Paul missed his eighth straight game with a bruised right kneecap. But Griffin's absence was revealed as the teams took to the court for the opening tip. He hadn't missed a game since a knee injury kept him out for his entire original rookie season in 2009-10.
"Hey listen, we've played enough games this year without players," Wittman said. "Don't give me the crap about who was here and who wasn't here. A win is a win."