He didn’t make the crowd gasp with a frightening fall or cheer with a last-second jumper, but Nene’s return from a sore right shoulder was essential to the Wizards’ success during a 90-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday at Verizon Center.
The Brazilian big man’s absence was certainly felt in the Wizards’ previous two losses against Detroit and New York, but he came back – wearing a one-armed, white T-shirt and some extra padding on his sore right shoulder – to help Washington have one of its best defensive performances of the season and win the rebounding edge over the 76ers.
“Still hurting,” Nene said of his shoulder, “but I play with pain. The good thing we won the game. But a big step.”
Nene scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds and John Wall, seemed more in control on the offensive end with him around to draw double-teams and create space with solid screens. Late in the first half, Wall drove inside, drew the defense, saw Nene cutting down the lane and threw a pass that lead to a dunk. On the next possession, Wall used a pick by Nene to split two defenders then pulled off his dazzling, 360-degree layup around 76ers center Spencer Hawes.
The Wizards limited the 76ers to just 38.8 percent shooting and outrebounded them, 50-42. And Wall wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make that pull-up jumper with 4.4 seconds remaining if Nene hadn’t fought off Hawes and Dorell Wright to claim an offensive rebound after Martell Webster missed a rushed three-point attempt on the same possession.
Nene was pleased by how the Wizards responded after blowing an eight-point fourth-quarter lead and losing rookie Bradley Beal to a sprained left ankle. He admitted it was difficult watching Beal go down near him with 2 minutes, 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Beal is day-to-day with the injury.
“It was scare, because I saw Tony Parker and he twist his ankle and going to be one month out and I saw the young fella crying and in pain,” Nene said. “That’s the first thing that came to mind, like I hope he fine.”
Beal cried? “Look like it. I could cry too, depending on how painful. I hope in the next couple of days, he feel fine.”
Coach Randy Wittman said having Nene and A.J Price back were critical in the win.
“We need our team intact and healthy and when we are, we’ve been pretty resilient, pretty tough,” Wittman said. “Obviously, having those two guys back was a big lift for us, no question.”
Price missed the previous loss to New York with a right thigh contusion. He didn’t shoot well against the 76ers, missing 6 of 7 shots, but he did provide some steady play – three assists, no turnovers – and helped Wall play a more manageable 31 minutes so that he could be fresh toward the finish.
Nene gave the Wizards an 82-74 lead with when he made a layup with 7:56 left in the game, but the 76ers responded with an 11-0 run to take their first lead of the second half. The Wizards finally ended a nearly 5½ minute scoring drought when Wall worked the ball inside to Nene. Nene backed down Thaddeus Young, took three dribbles toward the middle then turned and dropped a jump hook, settling down the team before Wall closed.
After Beal left the game, Nene found Wall for his jumper that brought the Wizards within 87-86 with 93 seconds remaining, then his rebound set the stage for the shot that secured the win.
“He been working the whole season,” Nene said of Wall, “and that’s the answer for the critical guys who been talking bad about him.”
The Wizards (19-39) are 12-6 in games in which they have Nene, Wall and Beal this season.
“We play just we’re going to play the rest of the season: hard. Everybody know that,” Nene said. “We not going to give up. We have a 24 more games, I hope we can accelerate the car and finish good.”