Despite the performance that Raul Neto had Wednesday, he certainly left Capital One Arena with a sick feeling in his stomach.
He played well in his return to the lineup after a five-game stint in COVID protocol, but found himself as the man tasked with defending the ball on the Rockets’ final possession of the game with the game tied.
The Rockets set a screen to get a matchup with Neto on Kevin Porter Jr. as time wound down and, to his credit, the 6-foot-1 Neto played as good of defense as he could on the 6-foot-4 Porter. The problem for Neto and the Wizards was that Porter just made a better play.
Porter’s outstanding step-back 3-pointer for the win gave the Wizards a 114-111 loss and dropped the team to .500 once again. It was the team’s second loss at home at the buzzer in three games.
“I think I did as best of a job as I could, I contested the step-back,” Neto said. “He’s a good player and he made a great shot. If I could come back, maybe I would make him drive and try to make him do something else that he didn’t want to do. I did my best. It’s tough to lose that way.”
In a return to game action, Neto gave the Wizards everything he could in nearly 32 minutes of game action.
He went 6-of-7 from the floor and had 14 points to go along with four assists. While the Wizards began the game shorthanded with a few key players in COVID protocols, they lost Davis Bertans (sprained left foot) and Bradley Beal (fouled out) during the game. In essence, they ran a six-man rotation down the stretch and Neto was a big part of that lineup.
It was Neto’s first game since before Christmas, as the team placed him in COVID protocol on Dec. 26. He played his planned 30 minutes while “easing” back into the lineup, but the situation called for him to be on the floor in the game’s most consequential minutes.
“Feels good to be able to come out there and play basketball again,” Neto said. “I had I think three days to prepare for the game after being probably a week at home without being able to do anything. I felt good on the court at the beginning, I was a little tired trying to catch the rhythm of the game, but I feel good.”
Neto didn’t show many signs of fatigue late, as the shot from Porter - which was just his third made shot on his 13th attempt - was one where there wasn’t much else he could've done.
“I thought it was well defended,” coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “We talked about whether to go hit it and take the ball out of his hands late. We said, ‘No, just trust the defender.’ It stings because it seems it’s happened a little too often this past week or two. I thought it was well defended and he made a tough shot.”
Neto spent time in the protocol in his apartment and tried to look on the positive side of things as he did what he could do to remain in shape. He did body-weight exercises and some band work, but nothing compares to the act of being in the gym.
He mentioned postgame that the most difficult part of quarantine and isolation was not being able to practice or get shots up with the team.
“It’s hard,” Neto said. “I was talking to coach Wes and I told him that was the hardest part for me. After I wasn’t having any symptoms and not being able to leave the house and not being able to go workout, watching the games from home, even though I felt fine. That was the toughest part for me.”
Still, despite a 13-day absence from his last game played until Wednesday's game against the Rockets, he gave the Wizards all they could reasonably ask for in some key minutes down the stretch. Which makes the ending of his return even more frustrating.
“You can’t prepare to (defend) a play like that, at the end you’re just playing basketball,” Neto said. “I can’t predict what he’s going to do, I have to try to do my best to stay in front of him. It was a tie game, so I didn’t want to give him an easy drive so I backed up a little bit. And he made a great shot. The coverage was to switch on the ball and I did it. I did my best.”