Less than a week after Deni Avdija was tasked with big fourth quarter minutes against LeBron James and the Lakers, he found himself on the bench for the majority of Sunday’s game against the Celtics.
In a season (and career) low 6 minutes, 46 seconds on the floor, Avdija committed three fouls, two of which came a minute apart, and was pulled for Isaac Bonga’s defensive help. The first-round rookie didn’t play the entire second half.
The Wizards lost 111-110 with a disappointing finish against the Celtics at TD Garden, a learning experience for not just Avdija, but the Wizards as a whole.
“It’s a tough league, he’s going to be a good player and he is a solid player now,” coach Scott Brooks said of Avdija. “Some nights are not going to be your night, this wasn’t his night. You play the Memphis Grizzlies, maybe it’s going to be his night. But we have to have a defensive presence without fouling. His three fouls in the second quarter didn’t lose the game, but we had to go with somebody else and (Isaac) Bonga was the next man up.”
With Avdija on the bench, Brooks turned to Bonga, who hadn’t played double-digit minutes since Feb. 5 against the Miami Heat and had done so just once since Jan. 29 against the Hawks.
Against the Celtics, Bonga played 16:04, the eighth-most minutes he’s played all season and the fifth-most he’s played in 2021.
“We needed some defenders without fouling,” Brooks said. “That’s why we have a 15-man roster, everybody has to be ready. You don’t get entitled to minutes. You gotta come in, you’ve gotta defend, you can’t foul every time down the court, got them in the bonus and got them a lot of free throws.”
Bonga went 0-for-5 from the field, all missed 3-pointers, and finished plus-eight in his valuable minutes. He hasn’t been called upon for his offensive prowess by the Wizards this season with a 2.4 point-per-game average (entering Sunday), but his defensive help was exactly what the Wizards needed with Avdija on the bench.
“He’s an improving 3-point shooter,” Brooks said. “If we would’ve took care of business at the end of the game, I thought his minutes won the game for us. He’s a worker, working before games to get this opportunity. Give him credit, he stayed ready and he was ready tonight.”
Avdija has played off the bench since early February but hasn’t had his minutes decrease as the season has worn on. Bonga, who began the season as a starter, has spent eight games on the bench for its entirety.
In the month of February, before Sunday’s game, Bonga played just 48:45 - barely more than one game. He played a third of that against the Celtics and nearly helped the streaking Wizards to yet another victory.
“This guy works hard for those moments,” Brooks said. “I thought he played hard, he gave us a chance to win the game.”