Special to Newsday
John Wall lost the election for the Eastern Conference’s starting backcourt in the NBA All-Star Game. But he put on an All-Star-worthy display of playmaking Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks, stating his case for a reserve role next month in New Orleans.
The Wizards’ 26-year-old point guard was a wizard with the basketball in his hands, scoring 29 points, including his team’s final seven, handing out 13 assists and making three steals to power a 113-110 victory.
“I’m just trying to make the big-time plays,” Wall said. “Whether it’s me scoring or me passing, I’m going to live with the results if it’s the right read and the right play. Tonight I came up with some big stops and big shots, and we won.”
The East’s starting backcourt was announced earlier in the evening. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan were the top two in the combined fan, media and player voting. But Wall, an All-Star the previous three seasons, is the only guard in the conference averaging a double-double in points (23.1) and assists (10.3). The reserves will be announced Thursday.
“Hopefully, I’m a reserve,” Wall said. “There’s a lot of great guards that have been playing well in the East this year.”
The Knicks (19-25) haven’t played great defense against point guards of late. Dennis Schroder erupted for 28 points in Atlanta’s 108-107 win Monday. Boston’s Isaiah Thomas followed with 39 Wednesday night, although the Knicks managed to earn a 117-106 victory.
But then they ran into a 6-4 Wall. The Knicks saw all of his considerable skills, between the drives, the passes, the mid-range jumpers and the defense.
Asked how much of a handful Wall was, Kyle O’Quinn said, “Two handfuls. Good player.”
Derrick Rose struggled to stay with him. So Brandon Jennings got a chance down the stretch.
Wall drove by him and gave Washington (23-19) a 109-104 lead with 2:37 left. He made two free throws with 32.6 seconds remaining to put the Wizards ahead 111-110. Then he took a rebound the distance for a dunk, making it a three-point game with 13.7 on the clock, and stole the ball from Jennings to end the Knicks’ final possession.
Coach Scott Brooks said Wall “makes a lot of winning basketball plays for us.”
After the first quarter, Wall had 11 points and seven assists. He contributed nine points and three assists in the third quarter to help Washington gain a 100-86 advantage.
“He’s aggressive on both ends of the floor, and we need that,” Brooks said. “We want to play that way. He brings that swagger to our team.”