What Marcin Gortat has done in the first two games of the Wizards' first-round series vs. the Atlanta Hawks might be his two best performances all season. It's an about-face from where he was three weeks ago.
Why the change?
"The part where you suck. It just tells you that it's about time to wake up and start doing your job. The fact that I got to accept what's going on," said Gortat to CSNmidatlantic.com before the regular season ended. "The fact that this is how it's going to be and I got to perform now and then just keep fighting for my opportunities, minutes, touches, whatever it is. At the end of the day I think that that's what happened. The Utah game is where I started playing better. Maybe numbers don't show but I think it was the turning point."
Gortat, who had begun to lose playing time to Ian Mahinmi after the backup returned from knee procedures, had just four points and 11 rebounds in tha regular-season loss March 31 in Salt Lake City.
Against Atlanta in the playoffs, he has had 14 points and 10 rebounds in both games, each victories, including five blocks in Game 2. And combined he has shot 14-for-21, or 67%, from the field.
Gortat has had far better games than even those statistically speaking, namely 21 points and 18 rebounds in a two-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs. But none of it shows his defensive effort against Dwight Howard, what he does pre-catch to deny him post position, switching out on guards such as Tim Hardaway in space and defending All-Star Paul Millsap when the Hawks go to small-ball at the five.
Mahinmi is out at least the first three games with Atlanta because of a left calf strain. There is no other true center on the roster and Gortat is it. Whatever the Wizards have needed from him, he's given it to them going into Saturday's Game 3 at Phillips Arena.
“I thought he has been great both games. He has an athletic big that can have monster games in Dwight Howard," coach Scott Brooks said. "He’s done a great job of just staying around the basket, staying in front of them. He’s done a good job. That’s what he’s done. He’s a big part of our team, and when he defends he helps us. He’s not known as a defender because he does so many good things offensively, but he knows how to play. He had some tough assignments. Millsap is not an easy guard for anybody to play, and he did a good job of guarding him, also.”