Whether Marcin Gortat has just seven rebounds for the Wizards like he did in Game 4 or average 13 as he did in the first three vs. the Boston Celtics, the frontline size advantage is putting a cramp in small-ball.
The bigs for Boston not named Al Horford have been non-entities as the Wizards won the last two games by an average of 23 points to tie the semifinals at 2-2.
Amir Johnson is tasked with defending Gortat, a center, while Horford cross matches vs. Markieff Morris. Kelly Olynyk played 23 minutes for the Celtics and scored 14 points but the 7-footer didn't grab a rebound.
Ian Mahinmi comes off the bench for Washington and is a versatile defending post player who can outmuscle anyone Boston has to offer inside the paint. It's no surprise that in Game 3 the Wizards had a 50-38 edge in rebounds and 45-31 in Game 4.
The Celtics have to find a way to mitigate this weakness, but that's a tall task.
"If they want to go small I have to dominate. I have to dominate the paint," said Gortat, who has been most valuable in helping contain Isaiah Thomas' lane penetration and ability to finish at the basket. "We cant fall into their game, shoving and pushing and talking and trash-talking. We've got to just stay and be who we are."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens will go to three-guard lineups with Marcus Smart on the floor with Thomas and Avery Bradley, but there's no significant edge gained because the Wizards can stick with a bigger lineup and still matchup because of Morris.
The best chance Boston has is if the Wizards lose their focus and squander what's in front of them even though they lack home-court advantage.
"We've got to play hard. We've got to hit, we're going to foul hard if we have to but we're not going to start doing stuff that's going to take us out of our game," said Gortat. "We've just got to play our game."
In a first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards closed them out on the road in six games. Gortat had to contend with Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap in the low post.
Even though the series in the regular season and playoffs has been litered with technical fouls and ejections, including a blowup involving Kelly Oubre that led to his suspension for Game 4, it pales in comparison to Atlanta.
In that series, there wasn't any room to operate in the paint as Dwight Howard packed in the paint and ate up all the space for the Wizards' guards to get to the rim and Gortat. That's not the situation with Boston as Gortat has tallied 16 points and 13 rebounds, 14 points and 10 rebounds and 13 points and 16 rebounds in Games 1-3. The center also is averaging 3.0 assists in those games.
"Nothing even close as it was in the first round for me going against Dwight Howard and now going against their bigs," Gortat said of battling with the undersized Horford and Johnson in the paint. "It's not even close. I hope we're not going to jinx it."
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