In his usual honest dissertations about what has changed for the Wizards after they went up 3-0 in their series with the Toronto Raptors, John Wall dropped this nugget: "Nene, he's not complaining about getting the ball in the post, worrying about fouls, he's playing through it and getting rebounds for us and doing little things to help our team. That's the key you need to win in the playoffs."
Nene didn't have much of an impact in Game 3's 106-99 victory, but in the first two games won in Toronto he had 22 rebounds (more than twice his average) which contributed to the Wizards' plus-30 edge going into Friday's game.
There's a trickle-down effect that comes by not forcing as much play through the Brazilian in the low post because Marcin Gortat has prospered on both ends. He is averaging 16 points and 9.6 rebounds and shooting 21-for-30, or 70 percent.
Suddenly, after the backcourt had been on different pages with the frontcourt and bickering about responsibilities on busted pick-and-roll coverages in the regular season, everything has fallen into place. The Wizards aren't getting shredded in the paint and burned on kickouts to three-point shooters like they did vs. the Raptors in three regular-season losses.
Wall, who could be seen having spirited discussions with Gortat at practices, is clearly referencing that here: "In the season you play certain teams you got guys that might complain about different coverages you might have to do and say it's too tough and difficult. In the playoffs you put that aside."
With Gortat more engaged on offense and rolling to the basket -- he matched his season high with 24 points to go with a game-high 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks Friday -- his defense has picked up. He's playing fourth quarters after not playing after the third vs. Toronto all season. The Wizards' superior size has come into play by forcing the Raptors to finish over their length.
As a result, Kyle Lowry is shooting 10-for-42, or 23.8%, in the series. Lou Williams, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, is 12-for-40, or 30%. DeMar DeRozan is 26-for-67, or 38.8%.
The ball pressure of Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter is a large part of it. The help from bigs Gortat and Nene is, too.
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