Wizards mark '78 title, Wall has 37 in win over Pacers
WASHINGTON (AP) - On a night when the Washington Wizards celebrated the 35th anniversary of the franchise's only championship, John Wall played like someone who might someday carry on that legacy, scoring 37 points in a display of speed and flair Saturday to lead the Washington Wizards to a 104-85 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
Wall made 16 of 25 shots, throwing his palms up after making an improbable 14-foot sideways runner and flexing his muscles to the fans on the first row after banking in a fast-break layup. He even blocked a layup attempt by Roy Hibbert, the 6-foot-4 point guard rising to swat the ball away from the 7-foot-2 Pacers center.
Wall also had five assists, four rebounds and two blocks for the lottery-bound Wizards, who have won nine straight at home and are 18-4 at the Verizon Center this season when he's on the floor.
They were especially motivated to put on a good show Saturday night, with Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and the other members of the 1978 team on hand for a halftime celebration in which a new, larger banner was raised and the franchise, at least one more time, was again known as the Bullets.
"You don't want to lose on a night like this," Wall said before the game.
The Wizards also spoiled a title celebration for the Pacers, who failed for the second night in a row to get the win they need to clinch their first Central Division crowd in nine years. Indiana also fell two games behind the New York Knicks in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Hibbert had 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Pacers, who went cold at the start of the second half. The Wizards took a 51-48 halftime lead and turned it into 63-48, with Wall scoring half of the points in the 12-0 run while Indiana was going 4:15 without a point. The Pacers didn't get closer than seven the rest of the game.
No one on the Wizards roster was born when the Bullets won their title. Before the game, five players in the locker room - Wall, Bradley Beal, Trevor Booker, Garrett Temple and A.J. Price - had no clue about the relevance of the phrase "The opera ain't over until the fat lady sings," unable to identify it as the catchphrase associated with the Bullets' seven-game series win over the Seattle SuperSonics in the finals.
But Wall nevertheless put on a show, scooting downcourt to make a behind-the-back move in front of George Hill for a layup in the first quarter and cradling the ball like a running back while drawing a foul and making a layup in the second. There was also the sequence in which Wall stole the ball from Hibbert, raced downcourt and threw down a flying one-hander while drawing a foul from Paul George.
Wall didn't play when the Wizards went 0-3 against the Pacers earlier this season because he was out until early January with a knee injury. Indiana coach Frank Vogel made his players acutely aware of that fact before the game.
"I wrote on the board this morning: 'He's a difference maker,'" Vogel said.
Notes: Hayes on the halftime celebration: "If you don't win a championship, you're always governed by that. Because they'll say 'Well, you're a great player,' like Charles Barkley or Karl Malone have to go through. They'll say, 'You're a great player but you didn't win.' So this really put the cherry and the cap on our careers to make people say, 'Hey, these guys are winners, these guys are great players.'" ... Hayes also wasn't impressed by the Wizards' recent winning spurt. "You're getting a few wins right now, but you're not going anyplace," he said. "Plus you're losing the draft choices."