Wizards

Gafford has big game in surprise return from injury

Wizards

When the Wizards went into the locker room for halftime on Wednesday night, down eight to the Detroit Pistons, players on the team were told starting center Daniel Gafford was unlikely to return.

He had badly rolled his right ankle on a block attempt in the second quarter and limped off the floor in pain. They were under the impression Montrezl Harrell would have to play more and that Kyle Kuzma would have to play out of position.

Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. didn't think Gafford would be back, either, and the team announced he was questionable to return early in the third quarter. But just four minutes into the second half, he was back on the floor with his right ankle heavily taped.

Gafford played only five minutes and 42 seconds in the third quarter and had three blocks. He had two more in overtime to reach six total for the game. It was a gutsy performance in what Bradley Beal called a "big gut-check win."

Unseld Jr. used similar verbiage.

"He was able to gut it out. We needed him on the floor. He had some great possessions switching, keeping the guy in front and making plays at the rim. I give him a lot of credit for that," he said.

Gafford played 27 minutes in the game, including all of overtime in the Wizards' 119-116 victory. He had seven points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, tying the second-best shot-blocking game of his career.

The advanced metrics further show his impact. He recorded 17 contested two-point shots, about double his season average (8.6), which ranks ninth in the NBA.

 

Gafford was a force in a game the Wizards needed everything they could muster to win. Despite facing a 4-20 Pistons team, the Wizards trailed by 12 points and allowed a 16-3 run to close the fourth quarter and trigger overtime.

Given the margin for error, Gafford's return and output were essential.

"He came back like he was Willis Reed or somebody. He came out the tunnel, had five blocks. It was big," Kyle Kuzma said.

"It just talks about how dedicated he is, how much he wants to win and how important we are to him. He feels like he needs to be out there and he played a big game for us."

Gafford, 23, has had to overcome a series of minor injuries already this season just to stay on the floor. He missed two games with a right quad contusion, another with a sprained right thumb and now has his right ankle to worry about.

Through it all, he has been solid for the Wizards this season, averaging 9.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, the latter placing fifth in the NBA. Even if he isn't 100% healthy, he can make a positive impact, as he showed on Wednesday night.