John Wall struggled to sleep the night before, racing his heart and mind in anticipation of his Houston Rockets debut, a return from a two-year hiatus postponed by an NBA-imposed quarantine under COVID-19 protocols.
As the Wall noted after the Rockets’ 122-119 won the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night in Houston, it has been 735 days since he played an NBA game that counted. Since then he has had to undergo surgery to remove the bone marks from his left heel that had plagued him for years. He then underwent another operation to repair an Achilles tendon that he had torn during his recovery, after which he was exchanged for Russell Westbrook at the Washington Wizards with a first round of protected pickaxe.
It was great to go out there and have fun,” Wall said after his 22 point, 6 response and 9 defense performances in winning. When I came between the four lines and as soon as the ball hit my hands after the jump, I was fine. I was happy to compete against some of the best players in the league and show that I have the ability to be one of the best leaders in the league.
Wall said he was feeling good physically. He demonstrated the elite speed and explosiveness that were important factors in his five consecutive All-Star appearances before injuries ended his career. He scored six out of eight baskets against the Kings on dunks or lay-ups, including two fastbreak singles.
He seems to be back in his All-Star mode, said Rockets Center Christian Wood, who scored 21 points and 12 rebounds.
He was extremely aggressive, both in the game and in defense, said Rockets superstar James Harden, who scored 16 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter. He looked really, really good, especially after two years of not playing.
However, Wall admitted that after his debut with the Rockets there was still a lot of room for improvement. In particular, he emphasised his five turnover figures and his low shooting rate on three points (2 out of 8).
Having 22, 9 and 6 isn’t bad for my first game in two years, Wall said, helping 19.0 points and 9.2 on average in his decade with the Wizards. I can congratulate myself on that, and I know I’ll be even better in the next race.
Wall enters into a relationship with fellow countryman Harden, a dominant defensive lineman who hasn’t seen time pass by in the preseason after his brief resistance to trade. Wall had to stay out of the week – including both Rockets games – because he was in close contact with debutant Kenyon Martin Jr., who tested positive for coronavirus the day after Wall’s haircut at his apartment.
They haven’t been together yet and we’re still trying to figure out who’s got it and who’s playing with the ball, said Rockets coach Steven Silas about Wall and Harden. They found out for themselves with my help. This relationship needs to develop and improve more and more.
Wall gave Silas the match point in the locker room to celebrate his first win as head coach, but admitted that he thought he would keep it because of the personal significance of the game.
This is his first time as head coach, I think he deserves it, Wall said. But I had the opportunity to keep my shirt on. This is definitely going in my trophy room.