Andray Blatche started on the bench, played a little bit, and finished the game on the bench with a bag of ice wrapped around his left calf muscle.
Jan Vesely started his second straight game, played a lot, contributed and was on the floor for the final, critical possession, when Charlotte Bobcats guard Matt Carroll’s final three-point attempt hit the front of the rim.
But it didn’t matter who started or finished, because Trevor Booker was the power forward who provided the most production with the game on the line. After a disappointing effort the night before in Houston, where the Wizards lost to the Rockets and he was upstaged by his older cousin, Jordan Hill, Booker found the comforts of being close to home enough to play one his most inspired efforts of the season.
Booker made all six of his field goal attempts and scored a season-high 16 points, including a big dunk in the final three minutes, as the Wizards claimed their first road win, 102-99, at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“I just got the minutes, so I tried to go out there and provide some energy for the team,” Booker said. “You always got to stay ready and I was ready tonight.”
Booker lost his starting job before the Wizards upset Oklahoma City seven games ago and his minutes have fluctuated ever since. But the Wizards needed Booker to be ready on a night when Vesely struggled to score and Blatche was ineffective on both ends while on the floor. Blatche scored four points in just eight minutes, but could hardly move up and down the court to keep up with Bobcats backup center Byron Mullens, who scored 13 of his career-high 23 points in his first eight minutes of the game.
Mullens twice got out on the break and got easy dunks before Blatche even crossed half court. It was later discovered that Blatche was experiencing pain in his left leg and Coach Randy Wittman determined it wasn’t worth risking him playing in the second half.
“I saw him lumbering up and down the floor down the end of his first stint in the first half,” Wittman said. “And they were working on him a little bit at halftime. He went out and tried to warm up. I think he could have probably played it just wasn’t going to be conducive for him to be out there, I thought. It was my decision, but he was hurting.”
Booker was hurting after the Wizards lost, 103-76, in Houston and he finished with the worst plus-minus of any player on the floor at minus-29. He will also have to hear trash talk from Hill, who outscored Booker, 10-4, and helped fuel the laugher. But Booker knew he would have an opportunity for quick redemption, with his mother, father and brother looking on in the stands.
“Booker was huge,” Wittman said. “Guys that play the right way, their minutes will come. I think our guys are understanding that. Like I said. Nothing against Vesely, I thought Ves was good again tonight. He gives us a presence out there, but Book, with his ability to roll to the basket and catch and finish was huge. I don’t think he missed a shot.”
Booker had two dunks in the first half, including an emphatic slam over Mullens that ended with him staring down the big man and collective a technical foul. Wittman didn’t waste any time yanking him immediately, for the rest of the half. Booker kept his composure in the second half and filled in admirably behind Vesely. His production was needed with Blatche unable to go.
“I knew he was hurting at halftime, but I didn’t know how severe it was,” Booker said of Blatche. “You’ve just got to stay ready.”
Booker said he had “a little bit more motivation” playing not far from where he grew up in Union, S.C., and he was excited that the Wizards ended their road skid. “We’ve been working our butts off and to get two out of three, it feels pretty good,” he said.