ORLANDO -- While much will be made of the summit meeting held by John Wall and Bradley Beal midway through the fourth quarter of the Wizards' comeback win over the Magic, overlooked was Marcin Gortat's role. He had his input, and his re-telling of what went down is quite colorful.
"I was a witness when these two were talking to each other, exchanging the words, and I tell them, ‘Hey man, you two are the best players on the team but as the third-best player on the team I’m telling you right now it ain't going to work if you two aren't on the same page,’" Gortat said after Thursday's practice. "I said to both of them, 'You two are incredible, talented players and we need different things from both of you. We need you to get aggressive and shoot the ball and we need from you to be the creator push the fast break and make everybody better. At the end of the day we win or die with you.'"
Trailing for most of the fourth quarter, Wall and Beal combined for 19 of their 46 points there. Wall had three of his career-high five blocks. They made plays on both ends of the floor and it culminated with a floater from Wall with 13 seconds left for the winner, 88-87. The duo took 13 of the 18 shots by the starters in the fourth.
Gortat continued about the conversation from his viewpoint: "'It’s not like you two are going to sit down and all of a sudden there’s going to be another two people that’s going to lead this team. It won’t happen like that. ... I’ve seen a lot of maturity from them. They’re different type of players from last year. Working together they changed the game by themselves. …Three years ago they had no clue how to do it."
Keeping things in context, after tonight's game at the Milwaukee Bucks there will be 80 games left so it's premature to say Wall and Beal have arrived. And the win in Orlando came against a team that has averaged 22.6 wins for the last three seasons. But there have been chemistry issues with Gortat and the backcourt in his previous two seasons, particularly on the defensive end, so his praise is a positive sign.
"They understood that either you’re going to cooperate or you’re going to destroy the team. That’s how it is. It's just like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, they’re going to cooperate, they’re going to work together and win games or they’re going to actually (expletive) up the whole team," Gortat said. "That’s how it is. These two guys, they’re smart enough, bright enough, they understand we win or lose, we’re going to die with them.
"I set about a million screens. I didn’t even have one post-up touch. I don’t care. As long as we get these two guys rolling, as long as we’re winning games, I don’t care."
There's a lot of grunt work behind the scenes that takes place which can be attributed to veterans of seasons past (Trevor Ariza, Paul Pierce and Al Harrington) and present (Gortat, Nene and Drew Gooden) and coach Randy Wittman. He had to break down Wall from being erratic offensively and lacking discipline on defense and rebuild him into a two-time All-Star who not only sees the game differently but prepares more like a professional.
"You got to have that quality on your team, guys that are going to make plays in the crunch. Good teams have it," Wittman said. "We’ve worked a number of years on development with both the guys. They played with confidence down the stretch.
"It’s not made over night. You got to be able to be a guy that handles missing the shot at the end of the game and be ready the next game to take the same shot. Your skin has got to be thick."
Wall and Beal have had their issues with each other on the court. Who's responsibility is it? Who's fault is it? Who will take the last shot? They'll exchange words but it's nothing personal.
“The more you play together, the more you learn about each other. That’s life, too," Wittman said. "My first year with my wife was a lot different than the 31st year. It’s a process of understanding what buttons you can push with each other, which you might not know the first couple years playing together. It’s a process of understanding those qualities in each other and how to deal with each other, in tough times as well as good times."