John Wall said he could not sleep last night.
It has been a total of 735 days since his last regular-season game. And thanks to the NBA’s Health & Safety Protocols, Wall had an additional eight days added to his long-awaited comeback. But when he finally made his return to the court, Wall resembled the player that became a five-time All-Star in Washington.
His first official basket came on an easy dunk attempt assisted by James Harden. After a slow start to the night, Wall finished with 22 points en route to helping the Houston Rockets to a 122-119 win over the Sacramento Kings.
After the game, Wall left the court with the game ball in hand but gave it up to someone he felt was more deserving. Along with his teammates, Wall presented Stephen Silas with the game ball to commemorate his first head coaching victory. But while Silas took home the game ball, Wall collected another sentimental value to commemorate the moment — his jersey.
“I definitely wanted to keep it, but it was coach’s first win as a head coach, and I think he deserved it. I had the opportunity to keep my jersey, and that is definitely going in my trophy room. That jersey is for my mom, with this being my first official NBA game without having her present. Dec. 12 made it a year since her passing. It’s a blessing because everyone knows what my mom meant to me.” — Wall
Wall’s comeback to the game proved to be worth the two-year wait. His entire repertoire was on full display, as he blew past Kings’ defenders with his signature speed and explosiveness. Every defender had a tough time preventing Wall from getting to the basket, including Marvin Bagley, whose defensive collapse nearly resulted in a poster featuring De’Aaron Fox.
But Wall’s most significant contribution to his new team came as a playmaker. Houston began the season with Harden as their only ball-handler, which resulted in the Rockets dropping their first two games. Since his arrival, Wall said his job as the point guard is to make the game easier for Harden. And that he did.
Wall helped eased Harden’s load as a facilitator. This was beneficial down the stretch to allow Harden to focus on closing for the Rockets late in the fourth quarter — where the three-time scoring champion scored 16 of his 33 points.
In the past, Harden would normally stand near halfcourt when the ball was not in his hands. Although it appeared as a strategy, reports revealed that Harden’s former teammates had a problem with his lack of non-ball movement. But sticking with the theme of 2020 in its final hours before the New Year, Harden was different.
Instead of appearing nonchalant, he remained engaged with the ball in Wall’s possession. On this offensive set, Wall found Harden on a shortcut to the basket resulting in a layup — and perhaps his easiest basket as a Rocket. The Wall-and-Harden duo combined for 44 points and 17 assists in the win.
“As you know, they have not been together too much. And we are still trying to figure it out. Who has it, and who is playing off the ball. It’s a relationship that has to grow and get better and better. And I have to make sure that I am putting them in positions to play to their strengths. It was great.” — Silas
The last time Wall took the court in 2018, his career — much like the world — was different. He scored 21 points in front of 17,534 Pistons fans during an 11-point loss for the Wizards inside Little Caesars Arena. Thursday night, only 3,247 fans had the pleasure to witness Wall’s debut inside the Toyota Center draped in the Rockets’ H-Town blue.
His performance, much like Houston’s win, was far from perfect. But Wall’s return was a step towards reclaiming his status as one of the NBA’s best point guards. In the same way, this win for the Rockets was a step towards showcasing their full potential as a near-complete team.
“It was great. We did a great job. We fought, and we did not give up after we had a big lead and let it go. We withstood their runs, and they withstood our runs. We just kept fighting to the end and made the big plays when we needed them. I was happy to be able to compete with some of the best guys in this league. And show that I still have the ability to be one of the league’s best point guards.” — Wall