Early into the first quarter of Monday’s game against the 76ers, Daniel Gafford picked up his second, and then third, foul in a total of 39 seconds.
And as assistant coach Joseph Blair (who assumed head coaching duties) talked with Montrezl Harrell about sending him in to replace Gafford, he was stopped in his tracks but an unlikely source.
Harrell instead of checking in the game, told his coach to put Thomas Bryant in the game instead.
The move paid off, as it helped the Wizards leave Capital One Arena with a well-played 117-98 win over the 76ers. And not only was it a nice win to stack, it was one of the better games the Wizards played this season.
“To be quite honest, I went to talk to Trez to get him in and Trez said, ‘Go with TB,’” Blair recalled. “It was as simple as that. I think Trez felt it was a good matchup for TB, that’s what good teammates do, quite frankly. He did a good job on it and it changed the complexity of the game. As much as I would love to say it was my unbelievable coaching prowess, I have to say I actually just listened to the players.”
Against one of the league’s best in Joel Embiid, the Wizards needed every possible advantage to mitigate what he brought to the floor. And at that time, Harrell felt Bryant was the better option.
“It was about spacing the floor on the offensive end of the floor and just being able to keep them honest on the defensive end,” Harrell explained. “TB’s able to shoot the 3 and he’s been shooting the 3 longer than me a little bit more consistently. It was just a smarter play for the team, that’s all it was about. It wasn’t about anything else but the play for the team and what was going to be the right sub at that point in time.”
Bryant, who played in just his third game of the season Monday after he had to recover from a torn ACL last season, scored 15 points and had five rebounds in 15:43 on the floor. Harrell’s numbers certainly didn’t suffer either, and he scored 18 points to go with seven rebounds in slightly more than 21 minutes.
The road was long for Bryant, he said he’s felt comfortable in all three of the games he’s played. That covers mentally and physically.
“For me I just try to be ready at all times no matter when,” Bryant said. “I know the last couple games I haven’t been going in at the start of the first, the second like that. I just try to be ready as many times as possible.”
Now with a full rotation for the first time all season, the Wizards have a deep and impactful frontcourt with Gafford, Bryant and Harrell all ready to earn their minutes. As for how that can be divided in the future can be difficult to parse through, especially when one of them isn’t in foul trouble.
But the three-center rotation worked well Monday, and Harrell deserves his fair share for the move he made in the win.
“It remains to be seen, I’m hoping there is no limit,” Blair said of the group’s potential. “I’m hoping we can just continue to thrive in this situation…But in the end, we’re still growing. As a team, we’re still pretty infantile because we haven’t had a full roster yet. It still remains to be seen how great we can be. I’m excited about it.”