Washington Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall twisted his right ankle a few days before Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, but insisted he’d be ready to go.
Wall, as it turns out, was more than ready, dishing out a career-high 20 assists in nearly 34 minutes to lead the Wizards to a 112-107 win at Verizon Center in northwest D.C., snapping Washington’s two-game skid.
“Going back into the fourth quarter when I had 18 [assists], I knew I had a chance [for 20], but I also knew I had to play the right way because it was a close game,” said Wall, who also scored 14 points with only two turnovers. “Just tried to get the win.”
The Wizards (42-26) held the Bulls to just 17 second-quarter points, taking a 59-40 lead into the half.
But Chicago (32-37) heated up after the break, scoring 67 second-half points and all but erasing the Wizards’ big lead in the final minutes.
All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, who had a game-high 28 points, scored 11 in the fourth quarter and hit a 3-pointer to cut the Wizards’ lead to 108-107 with 39 seconds remaining, but Wall and forward Otto Porter Jr. hit four straight free throws to seal the victory.
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 25 points, going 3-of-4 beyond the arc. The Wizards hit 10 of 26 three-point attempts, compared to the Bulls’ 7-27.
Jason Smith, starting in place of forward Markieff Morris, who was out with an illness, scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 37 minutes.
“It was solely attributed to [Wall],” Smith said of his success. “He was distributing the ball to everybody. I’m just hitting open shots when I can. I just try to come in and get my work done.”
Smith, getting his first start in his past 378 career games, also shot 3-for-6 from deep.
The 7-footer said big guys must “evolve or die” in the league’s current trend of run-and-gun basketball, which puts a premium on sharpshooting bigs.
Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said he wasn’t happy with the team’s defensive effort in the second half despite the win.
The Bulls, playing without 12-time All-Star guard Dwyane Wade, who is out for the regular season with a fractured elbow, shot 43 percent from the floor in the first two quarters, but finished at 50 percent for the game. Chicago also out-rebounded the Wizards 52-41.
“We’re going to have to look at the film, but it wasn’t obviously as good,” Brooks said. “[Bulls center Robin Lopez] had his way on the boards. He was getting offensive rebounds and putbacks. This is what we talked about before the game. We didn’t do a good job to keep them off the glass.”
The week didn’t end as well for Washington, which lost the next night on the road, 98-93, to the Charlotte Hornets. Wall received his 14th technical foul on the season, which could lead to a one-game suspension if it gets to 16.
The Wizards returned to Verizon Center this week for a two-game home stand (3/22 vs. the Atlanta Hawks; 3/24 vs. the Brooklyn Nets) before a nine-day, five-game road trip that starts Saturday against the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.