If the Washington Wizards are going to pull off a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit and advance to the Eastern Conference finals, then they're going to need more damage from their dynamic point guard than any wall has produced since either Humpty Dumpty or Gus Frerotte was involved.
Take your pick.
John Wall has been quite limited by the Indiana Pacers throughout the second-round series, but Game 5 gave flashes of the superstar that he had become during the regular season. There was one 12-minute stretch during the third quarter that specifically should give the Wizards hope during the remaining portion of their clash with the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed.
If those Tuesday night proceedings were any indication, the Pacers' Wall problem has only just begun.
Humpty Dumpty was never the same after his wall trouble. Not even the king's horses and men could put him back together, and he spent the remaining portion of his life as nothing more than a shell of himself.
Frerotte's 1997 wall-induced injury kept him out of the Washington Redskins' lineup for the rest of the game against the New York Giants, which ended in a tie, and he missed each of the next three contests as Jeff Hostetler took his place.
Pretty big repercussions, huh?
If the Pacers aren't careful, they're going to be the next Wall victims.
The Third Quarter
Wall had been contained by George Hill and a stifling Indiana defense throughout the second-round series, and that trend looked to be continuing during the early portion of a win-or-go-home Game 5 Tuesday.
During the first four games of the series with the Pacers, the first-time All-Star had averaged 11.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists per contest, but he was shooting 31.4 percent from the field and a close-your-eyes-ugly 9.1 percent beyond the arc.
No, there is not a missing digit.
Then came Game 5, and the first half gave the impression that Wall hadn't yet gotten off the schneid. In 20 minutes of action, the point guard had recorded 10 points, five rebounds and three assists while knocking down five of his 12 field-goal attempts and coming up empty on both shots from beyond the arc.
Respectable? Sure, but not exactly the type of breakout performance the Kentucky product was looking for.
Then came the third quarter.
Wall's jumper finally started to connect, as he knocked down three triples in the period. Without sitting even once during that third quarter, the floor general exploded for 17 points, three more than the Pacers scored as a whole.
You can nitpick and point out that Wall recorded only one assist and turned the ball over once, but the important takeaway was his re-emergence as an elite scorer. That's what Washington has been missing throughout much of this series, after all.
Wall didn't score during the fourth quarter, but it's not like he needed to. He spent less than two minutes on the court, as Washington had already entered the final 12 minutes with an insurmountable 24-point lead.
"They didn't stop me from being aggressive on both ends," Wall told reporters after the game. "But the biggest thing was just the way we played in the third quarter. They outscored us by like 40 in the other four games, so the third quarter was big for us tonight."
And it was only the beginning.
Pacers Wearing Down
Wall's words after Game 5 reflected both relief and confidence.
I just knew I haven’t played well this whole series, and it’s frustrating. You can get down on yourself pretty easy, especially when you’ve been playing well most of this series – or most of the playoffs – and just throughout the season, helping my team. I know that if we lost this series, I’d put it all on my shoulders, because I didn’t play well in either game, except for Game 1. I was just really locked in, not saying nothing to nobody, just trying to come out and play my best game. Luckily, God blessed me with just helping me to get over the hump and me being able to make shots.
As Lee notes, Wall came out for the second half of a do-or-die contest with heretofore unseen passion and energy, which was a harbinger of what was to come. No longer would he be sullen and disengaged, as he'd realized the Pacers could no longer contain him when he was aggressive.
And they couldn't.
While Indiana has done a fantastic job corralling Wall and forcing him to settle for long two-pointers and three-point attempts, that effort has taken its toll. Hill in particular has been forced to exert all sorts of energy while trying to keep up with his speedy counterpart. That can only be maintained for so long.
After all, Hill has spent the first two series of the postseason chasing after Wall and Atlanta's Jeff Teague, two floor generals known for their ability to use their wheels.
According to NBA.com's SportVU data, Hill has run 28.8 miles during his first dozen games of the postseason, more than all but 10 players. Granted, that's partially because he's played 12 games, tied for the lead among everyone in the postseason, but the miles can still add up rather quickly, especially after such a grueling regular season.
Can the Pacers blame him if he wears down?
So far, Indiana has used a funnel to slow him down, as explained by Adi Joseph of USA Today:
It starts up top, with Indiana Pacers point guard George Hill staying in front of the Washington Wizards All-Star. It ends with Roy Hibbert, the Pacers' 7-2 defensive monolith, clogging the path to the basket. Play after play, game after game, Wall has been sucked into the trap.
But what happens if Hill can't do his part? What if Wall rediscovers his shooting stroke?
The answer is actually pretty simple: The Pacers will be subjected to a whole lot more 12-minute bursts like the one they experienced in the third quarter of Game 5.
"Never lost confidence," Wall told Joseph. "If I did, I wouldn't be shooting it still. I've still got my confidence; it's just not going into the basket. That's the most frustrating thing."
Well, it's started to go in the basket. Frequently.
That outrageous spurt—even if it was partially overshadowed by Marcin Gortat's standout performance—is all the impetus Wall needs to get going during this postseason. He's got the Pacers in a tricky spot now, as they're starting to slow down while he's heating up.
Granted, Indiana still has an enormous advantage, needing to win only once in the next two games, one of which—if forced—will be a Game 7 within the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But all of a sudden, the Wizards should have confidence that their best player is actually going to start playing like, well, their best player.
If it's possible for a team with a 3-2 series deficit to have the opponent exactly where they want them, then that's the situation for Wall and the Wizards. And if Game 5 was any indication, Indiana's Wall problems are only just beginning.