Marcin Gortat was presented with a tough assignment on Friday night, to step into the ring with one of the NBA's best young players, a 7-foot anomaly of skill and size named Karl-Anthony Towns who has been lighting up the league from both above the rim and behind the three-point line. He shoots well from long range, he dribbles past people, he blocks shots and the consensus is that Towns will be competing for MVP awards for many years to come.
Before Friday's game at the Verizon Center, head coach Scott Brooks said the Wizards would start the game with Gortat on him. Brooks said that "hopefully we can contain him."
By Towns' usual standards, they did. The former No. 1 overall pick scored 18 points, but shot just 7-for-17 from the field. Gortat responded to the challenge on defense and did his best to keep up with Towns, who is as mobile a big man as you will find in the game of basketball.
"March did a good job of knowing where he was in transition and getting out to him on the perimeter, just making it difficult for him," guard Bradley Beal said. "[Towns] is somebody that loves to go 1-on-1 and doesn't like to pass much. March did a good job of containing him."
Gortat had three blocks to go along with 19 points and 10 rebounds, his 21st double-double of the season. One of his blocks was an emphatic slam on Towns two minutes into the first quarter. Towns drove to his right, only to see Gortat swat the ball out of bounds.
The 19 points deserve their own acclaim, though. The Timberwolves feature two rim protectors down low in Towns and Gorgui Dieng. Despite that, Gortat was able to shoot 9-for-9 from the field. That's the most attempts for a perfect shooting night from a Wizards player since Ben Wallace went 9-for-9 himself in April of 1999.
That's a solid night, though guard John Wall wasn't quite impressed.
When told of the stat, Wall joked: "Did he shoot any shots outside the paint?"
Wall had more jokes about the veteran center when discussing his game:
“When he’s dunking the ball and finishing around the paint, he makes us a better team. We try to tell him to stay away from the free-throw line and jump shots. I don’t call him the 'Polish Machine' unless he’s dunking like he was today, so he got the nickname back.”
All kidding aside, Wall and Gortat made a lethal combination in the Wizards' win. That included an alley-oop off a screen in the final minute to help seal the victory.
That connection was something Towns himself noted afterwards. As a young player on a team coming into his own, he admires their ability to consistently execute those types of plays.
"Gortat is a good player, I think he's able to finish with both hands, so it becomes a factor. They've also been playing with each other for a while, that chemistry you can see on the court as Wall is going to the basket, Gortat knows when to stop rolling or start rolling... We're building that chemistry too here for the Timberwolves, so when we have that type of chemistry we can do special things too.”
You know you had a good night when a player as talented as Towns admits he saw something to strive for.