One might think that the conclusion of a game in which the Spurs hold possession of the ball and a two-point lead with 5.8 seconds remaining would be a mere formality, but on Wednesday night John Wall proved otherwise in San Antonio's 125-118 victory.
Tim Duncan attempted to inbound the ball against Washington's stout defense under just those conditions, ultimately looking off a few options to make a pass to an incoming Patty Mills. Wall, who was trailing Mills on his cut, had other plans; he reached up to steal the pass just as it hit Mills' hands, turning the Spurs over and triggering an immediate fast break.
From there, Wall, Garrett Temple and Trevor Ariza had San Antonio's Danny Green at a 3-on-1 disadvantage. Green played off Wall's drive just enough to take away the passing lane and avoid fouling, though in the process surrendered an open driving lane. Washington's star point guard never hesitated, pushing toward the rim and connecting on a game-tying left-handed layup with 1.4 seconds remaining in overtime.
San Antonio's next inbound attempt also resulted in a near turnover, though the ball was deflected out of bounds by the Wizards with 0.1 seconds remaining. That's not enough time for a legal shot attempt, though Mills -- who caught the ensuing inbound pass around the right hash mark -- managed to connect on a crazy, turnaround jumper. The shot did not count, and the game went into double overtime behind Wall's heroics.
There, unfortunately, the magic ran out. Both teams were visibly fatigued after slogging through 53 minutes to that point, and Washington's offense was particularly stagnant. Wall attempted halfhearted pick-and-roll after halfhearted pick-and-roll, but the Wizards failed to make a single field goal in 11 tries during the second overtime period. The Spurs weren't much more effective or energetic, but managed to eke out 10 points on a few made shots and free throws. That, as it turned out, was more than enough for the win.
Thus concluded what had been an unfortunate collapse for Washington. For many .500 teams, merely hanging tight with the Spurs (even the injury-riddled Spurs) is an achievement in itself. Yet despite the down-to-the-wire finish in both regulation play and the first overtime, Wall's Wizards had led by 17 earlier in the game by way of their pressure defense and impressive shot-making. A close loss in this case registers as a genuine letdown, particularly for a Wizards team that in its previous four games beat the Blazers, drubbed the Thunder, challenged the Clippers and outlasted the Warriors.
That's a huge development for a team in need of just such a turn. But in order to be judged as anything more than rank-and-file filler behind the Pacers and Heat, these are the kinds of games that the Wizards need to win. They have the team defense, the offensive resources and the overall talent to put a bow on a 17-point lead, and as of tip-off on Wednesday they had the winning record to show for it. Washington just needs to learn to follow through, both on its early advantages and its general promise.
This post has been updated to correct the amount of the Wizards' biggest lead in the game.