ATLANTA (AP) — John Wall hardly played like a guy who fractured several bones in his left hand 10 days earlier.
Returning to the playoffs after missing the previous three games, the Washington Wizards star scored 15 points and made what could have been a game-saving block in the closing seconds Wednesday night.
But Al Horford grabbed the offensive rebound and put back the winning shot with 1.9 seconds left, giving the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks an 82-81 victory over the Wizards and a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I didn’t have any problems with my hand,” said Wall, who was announced as a starter about 20 minutes before tipoff. “I was able to play aggressive and make plays, so I was fine.”
He almost made enough plays to give the Wizards control of the series heading back home for Game 6 on Friday night.
Wall hit 7 of 16 shots, dished out seven assists, grabbed four rebounds, made four steals, and came up with his second block when Dennis Schroder drove to the basket for the Hawks with the clock winding down and Washington clinging to an 81-80 lead.
If the Wizards could have grabbed the rebound, it probably would have been over. But Horford made a game-saving play for the Hawks, who now have a chance to wrap up the series in the next game.
“We just didn’t make the big plays,” Wall said.
After showing no apparent problems during pregame warmups, the Wizards announced that Wall would be active. Coach Randy Wittman had already said Wall would not dress unless he was going to play, but Washington didn’t name him as the starter right away.
Wittman even submitted a lineup that only listed four players. There was a dash drawn through the fifth spot.
Then, not long before tipoff, Wall’s name was written on the lineup board.
“I thought he was great considering everything,” Wittman said. “I don’t think he played tentatively at all. I never saw him wince or anything bother him, so that’s good. He played like John — all out.”
While Wall said he didn’t feel any pressure to return, he thought about veteran players such as Paul Pierce.
“Hopefully I can be back here multiple times, but this might be somebody’s last ride,” Wall said. “I just think we have a great team, a special team that has a chance, even though we’re down one. Having Paul Pierce on the team kind of made my decision a lot easier, knowing this might be his last ride.”
Ramon Sessions did a solid job filling in for Wall, averaging 14.0 points and 5.0 assists per game during his absence. But the Wizards are a totally different team with Wall, who had been averaging 17.4 points and nearly 13 assists a game in the playoffs, leading the Wizards to a first-round sweep of Toronto.
“I thought he did well,” said Bradley Beal, who led the Wizards with 23 points in Game 5. “You kind of cringed every time you saw him make a move to the basket and he’d fall, but he’s a soldier. He’s going to continue to lead us.”
Wall said 12 hours of treatment a day helped reduce the swelling and make it possible for him to return.
“We were playing so well in the playoffs early on, and getting hurt in Game 1 was tough,” he said. “I didn’t want to rush it and wanted to make the right decision.”
AP freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.
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