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Raptors praise Porter: 'He's been the difference'

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Raptors praise Porter: 'He's been the difference'

"The difference" is too clunky for a nickname, though Otto Porter could use a catchy moniker to spice up his image. Porter is the difference-maker through three games of the Wizards-Raptors series. Just ask Toronto.

"He's been the difference with his energy," Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez said shortly after losing Game 3 106-99 on Friday night.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey before Saturday's practice: "I think the biggest difference in their smaller unit -- everybody's attention is on Pierce, but it's Otto Porter."

In what ways is Porter making a difference?

Defense

Even those passionate backers of the decision essentially to swap Trevor Ariza for Paul Pierce last summer recognized that whatever the Wizards would gain in playmaking, experience and chutzpah they would lose in wing defense. Pierce is willing and capable, but Ariza is one of the league's best.

Though the 6-foot-8 Porter has Ariza's length and similar wiry frame, the former Georgetown star had yet to establish himself as any type of heralded defensive stopper. Three games isn't enough of a sample size to start campaigning for next year's all-defensive teams, but this performance over 82 games gets him into the conversation.

Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan scored 20 points in the first quarter of Game 3, sinking 8 of his 10 shots including three 3-pointers. He then proceeded to miss 10 straight field goal attempts, not recording his next basket until the second half. DeRozan finished 11 of 29 from the field for 32 points.

“I just missed shots,” DeRozan said about the dip in his shot making. “They didn’t do nothing at all. Every shot I took felt good, or I rushed it a little bit. They just didn’t do nothing.”

Anybody watching knows that's not the case. Inside the final minute of the second quarter, DeRozan waved off teammates as he called for a clear-0ut high on the right wing. Unable to gain separation from Porter off the dribble, DeRozan ends up taking a fadeaway 3-pointer that found nothing but air.

This wasn't just a one-game phenomenon. BulletsForever.com put together a nice chart that shows DeRozan's shooting struggles (5 of 21) when Porter is the closest defender compared to other Wizards.

Asked about Porter's length before Saturday's practice, Casey said, "It's huge. Long. He's athletic. He's really improved. From when he played at the beginning of the year until now, he's a different person. They've done a heck of a job developing him. Him working himself and getting better.

"His 3-point shooting is improved, but most importantly his defense. He's unbelievable. His length. It's not like he's doing it with strength. He's doing it with length. He's in the right place. He's disruptive more than anything else." 

Breaking up the Alpha's

My colleague J. Michael wrote about Nene's willingness to take on a newer role for the playoffs, one more focused on rebounding and defense than shot making. It's also one that takes him off the court when the Wizards use Pierce and Porter at the forwards. This smaller look is easily Washington's best lineup against the Raptors as evidenced in all kinds of statistical ways.

What it does on a rather human level is break up the starting five that loaded with leading men types and add in a key supporting player. Scoring points is important, no doubt, but if everybody is thinking buckets and not setting screens or crashing the boards or defending, then the system breaks down. 

Porter's instinct-rich game and ego-less approach, one that doesn't fret about having plays called for him, has provided this element for the Wizards against Toronto.

"He's the guy that's made big plays," Casey continued. "Not only shots, but made big plays, winning plays, rebounding, defending. What that does is it gives Wall more room to attack. We have to do some things in that situation."

The stat-stuffing forward is averaging 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 63 percent from the field 50 percent from beyond the arc. The slender forward is also tied for second on the team with eight offensive rebounds.

Vasquez: "The way he plays. He plays hard. For some reason he gets second chances for them. He's been the difference."

Porter flashed all of these elements at times this season, though not so loudly and without consistency. The real difference Porter can make for the Wizards is keeping this going.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: How they can keep it rolling in Game 5

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Tipoff podcast: How they can keep it rolling in Game 5

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes, Travis Thomas and Julie Donaldson reset the series and looked ahead to Game 5.

They were joined by TSN Sports anchor Kayla Grey to find out the Toronto perspective. The Wizards have all the momentum in this series, now they just have to keep it going.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Even after injury-riddled year, Wizards are seeing peak John Wall in playoffs

Even after injury-riddled year, Wizards are seeing peak John Wall in playoffs

You would not have known it by John Wall's towering poster-dunks over Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl in Game 4, or his fourth quarter takeover after Bradley Beal fouled out, but Wall is still technically working his way into midseason form from the left knee surgery that kept him out more than two months down the stretch of the regular season. Add into the equation that he sprained his right ankle in Game 3, then resprained it in Game 4 right after Beal went out, and it's quite clear that what he is doing is simply not normal. 

Throughout Wall's recovery, his head coach Scott Brooks remarked how Wall can regain his form unusually quick following an injury absence. Game 4 was just his eighth game back, yet through four playoff games he is averaging an absurd 26.8 points, 13.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.0 blocks.

If that's what he's doing eight games removed from recovery, and against the top team in the Eastern Conference, what does peak playoff form look like? 

"I told y'all, I told all the media that I only need like three or four games. I really didn't need too many games," he said. "All the hard work that I did in those two months was to prepare myself to be ready for the playoffs."

Wall said he started feeling like himself in his final regular season game, his fourth outing following the injury rehab. It was against the Celtics and he scored 29 points to go along with 12 assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

"I just started to see shots fall down that I was falling short with a couple games before that," Wall said of that night.

Brooks saw a change in Wall against the Cavaliers on April 5, in just his third game back. That game Wall put up 28 points, 14 assists, four rebounds and three steals. Most importantly, he logged 38 minutes.

"I knew I was going to challenge his body with extra minutes," Brooks said. "The way he responded to that, I knew he was back."

Whenever the turning point happened, there is no looking back. Wall has found his groove to not only impact, but at times dominate playoff games against one of the best defensive teams in basketball.

In Game 4 once Beal went down, Wall looked like the best player on the court. He scored eight of the Wizards' final 14 points to seal the victory and did so on a bum ankle. He outshined both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, two All-Star guards.

Wall even played sound defense on DeRozan in big moments. DeRozan shot 10-for-29 in the game.

"I think I did a good job of contesting him," Wall said. "Just do whatever it takes to help this team win."

What Brooks predicted would happen has indeed played out. He has been with Wall for about two years now and knows what the star point guard is made of.

"I've been with him two years, he loves to play," Brooks said, noting there have been some tough conversations to convince him to come out of games.

Consider this: Wall has scored 20 points or more in six straight games, his longest streak of the 2017-18 season. He has actually reached 23 points or more in those six games, which is tied for the longest such streak of his entire career.

Through eight games overall and four games in the playoffs, Wall has reminded everyone of what the Wizards missed. Yes, they went 10-3 when he first went down with the injury in late January, but that was not sustainable.

They need Wall to reach their full potential as a team and especially in the postseason. Late-game situations like in Game 4, when Beal exited and it was tied with 4:58 to play, are when the superstars separate themselves.

Wall did that and now the Wizards are in good shape with the series at 2-2 and having won two straight.

"Blame everything on him," Brooks joked of the Wizards' up-and-down regular season. "If he wasn't hurt, we'd be better, right?"

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