"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?
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.
Beyond the "stretch-4" aspect, what I love about this lineup is having four scorers with the 5th player (Otto) in hustle/defensive mode.
— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) April 22, 2015
"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.