After Davis Bertans sank his go-ahead stepback 3-pointer with 35 seconds to go in overtime against the Pacers on Friday night, he backpedaled down the court holding up three fingers with both hands. And as he did, he felt something he had not experienced in far too long.
"That felt good. I just told the guys. Imagine last year. If I made that shot and you're about to win the game and you just hear the speakers like 'ooh, ooh,'" he said.
That's because Bertans is finally playing in front of real crowds. Last season, the Wizards played most of their games in practically empty gyms. There was music and arenas pumped in crowd noise, but it just was not the same.
For Bertans, though, the ambiance isn't the only change year-over-year. He says he's in much better shape after arriving at training camp last season, fresh off signing an $80 million contract extension, out of shape. That was compounded by a laundry list of injuries, including a calf strain that ended his year prematurely.
Bertans also contracted COVID-19 in January and may have had the worst symptoms of any Wizards player who got it. Given the fact COVID affects breathing, it hindered his conditioning and that's not ideal for a player who has to move off the ball a lot to get open outside shots.
Bertans knocked down quite a few of them in the win against Indiana. He scored 17 points off the bench, including 11 in the first half, on 4-for-9 shooting from long range. None was bigger than the shot in overtime, which was a much-needed jolt for the Wizards after he checked in with 2:57 to go and his team down by five.
But Bertans also helped the Wizards in other ways. He actually had some positive moments on defense, which is not a strongsuit for him. He had a steal, two defensive rebounds and a memorable stop on Pacers rookie Chris Duarte in the third quarter with the shot clock winding down.
Wizards fans may not know Bertans as much more than a perimeter shooting threat, but he thinks he can give the Wizards a bit more than that.
"Well, you didn't see that much last year. I think mostly the years before, I've been capable of doing that. As you know, I wasn't in the best shape last year. That was the main goal, just come in, get in shape, put more focus on the defensive end and eventually if the offense works out, it works out," he said.
Doing the little things alone won't make Bertans a mainstay in the Wizards' rotation, which now has considerable depth and especially at his position. We saw that on Wednesday in the team's regular season opener when he went scoreless and played only 13 minutes in a Wizards win over the Raptors.
But doing things like rebounding, getting deflections and generally not being a lost cause on defense could help him stay on the floor a bit longer, maybe long enough to find a shooting rhythm. He was able to accomplish that on Friday by hitting two threes within 1:03 of each other in the second quarter. With three free throws to follow, he scored nine of the Wizards' 11 points in a stretch where they cut Indiana's lead from nine to to one.
After that, it was on.
"The rim expanded a little bit after the first one went in. Then, the second one was definitely a good feeling. In practice, I've been shooting a lot so it's nice to actually pay off during the game," he said.
Bertans' 17 points and clutch three could be taken different ways, as its early in the year and too soon to draw conclusions. It could be an example of inconsistency, given his scoreless game two nights before. Or, it could be the sign of a bounceback year, which Bertans has been openly hoping for after a 2020-21 season that wasn't as impactful as his numbers would have suggested.
But if it was indeed an indication of more to come, the Wizards will gladly welcome this version of Bertans with open arms. For as much talk as there has been among fans about him being expendable because of the team's depth, he is their best shooter in an age where shooting is at a premium. And, given they were dreadful at 3-point shooting last season, there is a very good chance they will need him moving forward.