You can tell a lot about a team in elimination games.
Just like you can tell a lot about a person in adverse times.
We learned a lot about the Wizards last night. We also learned a lot about John Wall last night.
Granted, last night's Game 5 win won't mean quite as much if the Wizards are unable to win the next two and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals, but nonetheless, it was a defining game for both this team and for John Wall.
Wall knows the responsibility he carries as the leader of this team. Fair or unfair, he takes the brunt of the criticism when the team struggles. He takes the blame when the team goes down three games to one. And in his own words, he hasn't played like the John Wall we've seen all season. The John Wall who was named to his first All-Star game in February.
Although he wouldn't admit it publicly before the game, afterwards he said his confidence was wavering a bit and he even told Randy Wittman that he didn't know how he could get out of his current funk.
So Witt talked to him at shootaround before Game 5.
"Coach Witt told me he wanted me to be extra aggressive, he didn't care if I had 20 turnovers. He said I just want you to go out and play like you've been playing most of the season".
Then Witt sent John a text during the day that read:
Just believe, just believe in yourself .
A simple message, but it meant a lot. Remember Witt has been with the organization for Wall's entire professional career and he knows John as well as anyone. He knows that Wall is someone who rarely lacks confidence, so to see him questioning himself before Game 5, he knew he had to send the right message.
"To hear that from your coach, from somebody who's been here for four seasons and been riding through thick and thin, and having my back is pretty exciting."
Wall responded by playing his best game of the postseason. He finished with 27p-5r-5a and looked like the dominant point guard that he's become. He controlled the pace of play from the opening tip, scoring two fast-break layups in the first few minutes of the game.
And it wasn't just his coach who had his back.
As good as Wall was last night, if I were to give an MVP trophy for that one game I probably would have to give it to the Polish Machine, Marcin Gortat.
Like Wall, Gortat was coming off a tough Game 4. It was so tough, he didn't play a minute in the fourth quarter in what was a tight game. But, rather than mope, complain about playing time, and put his head down, he responded by being about that action.
This may have been the most dominant Gortat performance we've seen in a Wizards uniform. One where he finished with a playoff career-high 31 points and 16 rebounds on 13/15 shooting.
The irony was he didn't need to play much in the fourth quarter in Game 5 either, but not because he was struggling, but because he was so dominant he put the game out of reach.
And forget the numbers, he was just imposing his will on the game. He was a force in the middle, truly a machine.
But it wasn't just what Gortat did individually, but he also gave a message to Wall just before tip-off.
"I'm with you."
Gortat described seeing a different Wall during the day. One that he hasn't seen all season.
"John was a little bit different today, from the preparation standpoint for the first time in 102, 103 games that we had this season, I've this guy that didn't want to talk to anybody, he was kind of closed inside him, he didn’t want to talk to anybody. He didn't want to interact with anybody."
So he went up to him just before the game and told him that win or lose, good or bad, he's with him. He had his back. He would jump into the fire with him.
That's what teams are all about. The togetherness of this group came out last night and they showed everyone just what kind of character they possess.
Make no mistake, this was a statement game from the Wiz.
Now, they'll need to build on what they did last night, come back home, and take care of business in front of their own fans to force a Game 7 back in Indiana.
But as for the future of this team, last night's Game 5 may be a defining moment that sticks with them forever.