ATLANTA -- To the naked eye, the sideline spat between John Wall and Marcin Gortat going into the fourth quarter of Game 1 is something for the Wizards to be concerned about in this second-round series with the Atlanta Hawks. In reality, it's what has made the Wizards so much more determined, focused and even unified going into Game 2 today at Phillips Arena (TNT, 8 p.m. ET).
This sequence that raised a few eyebrows came after the third quarter, when Al Horford zipped past Gortat on a drive to the basket.
Wall, in a conversation with CSNwashington.com after Monday's practice, explained: "It was the play where Horford dribbled baseline and got the reverse lay up. He was like, 'Where my help at?' ... I'm like, 'Dog, it's tough in that situation because he caught it and went on the run quick. Send him back to the middle. Your help was in the middle. You let him go opposite of your help.' He was like, 'No, I didn't.' Stuff like that is going to happen."
Wall and Gortat bicker. A lot. But it shouldn't be mistaken for not liking each other. It dates to last season, when Gortat came less than a week before 2013-14 began in a trade from the Phoenix Suns. Gortat wants to be a bigger part of the offense. Wall wants him to toughen up. Gortat has complained about "individual" defense. Wall -- as well as Paul Pierce, Bradley Beal and coach Randy Wittman -- have said their issues during their slump was more about team defense and busted pick-and-roll coverages.
The differences in opinion has led to interesting discussions at practice. Assistant coach Roy Rogers even could be seen sitting to talk with Gortat for more than an hour after a practice. Gortat, usually a lively, free-spirited personality, has gone into a shell and now speaks few words.
Sunday, he came on late to finish with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Wall found him with a lob with 15 seconds left for a 102-96 lead in that upset victory. Gortat shot 74.3% from the field in a first-round series with the Toronto Raptors mostly because of Wall's ability to distribute. The point guard averaged 12.5 in that series. He had 13 vs. Atlanta.
"We know we're a key to the team. I really want to see him do well," Wall said of Gortat, both of whom are signed through 2019. "I know how much he means to our team, he's setting great screens, he finishes a lot of plays, he's getting me a lot of assists. I try to make sure he's in the right situations and he tells me certain things he sees. Every time you're on the court, no game is going to be perfect. You're going to have your arguments here and there. We get through it and move on to the next play."
This is where Wittman's management of personalities comes in. He encourages his players to "police" each other. It's a glaring weakness that the Wizards had when they were a bad team, struggling to get to 30 wins in a season with a locker room loaded with dysfunction and bad attitudes. It was a weakness last season when the Wizards started 2-7. Wittman prefers to have a blow up, if necessary, and then move on. He does it with his players (and media) and doesn't hold grudges. He wants his players, especially Wall because he's the leader, to have the same thick skin with each other and not take it personal.
"He let's us sit back and talk," Wall said of Wittman's influence. "When it gets to a certain point where he's like, 'Alright that's enough, let's get back to what we need to focus on.' As a team we do a good job of getting on each other and moving on to the next play. We get back out there, you would never know we had an argument."
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