PHOENIX – Marcin Gortat received a decent ovation during pregame introductions on Friday at US Airways Center. Phoenix Suns fans applauded Gortat as he maneuvered through a tunnel of chest-bumping Wizards teammates who had been Polish-hammered across the head about what the game, and a win against his former team, meant to him.
Gortat could hardly contain his emotions as he fidgeted and nervously rubbed his hands in the moments leading up to tip off. The first time he got the ball in the low post, Gortat attempted to make a spin move around his replacement, Miles Plumlee, and lost the ball out of bounds.
“We all laughed on the first play. When I caught that ball, I thought I was already under the basket,” Gortat said. “It was just the excitement being here, playing against my ex-team.”
Gortat eventually let the jitters pass and channeled that energy toward helping the Wizards get back to .500 with a 101-95 victory. The tight game, which required a series of huge shots by Bradley Beal in the final minutes, wasn’t the commanding victory Gortat had hoped to get, but he accepted it just the same.
“A win is a win,” Gortat said with a smile. “We don’t care if it’s by one point or 30.”
The Wizards (21-21) have done a pretty solid job of helping players get wins against the teams that traded them. With Gortat winning in Phoenix, Washington is now 4-0 in those situations over the past two seasons.
They beat Denver last season in Nene’s emotional return after spending almost 10 seasons with the Nuggets. The Wizards claimed their first road win last season when Emeka Okafor faced the Hornets for the first time after he was dealt in exchange for Rashard Lewis’s expiring contract. Trevor Ariza, who was injured for that game, tried to play down his delayed first game back in New Orleans earlier this month but the Wizards still helped him get a victory over the Pelicans.
Nene was too overwhelmed to perform well against the Nuggets. Ariza made a huge three-pointer in front of the Pelicans’ bench to thwart a run. Gortat didn’t score in the fourth quarter against the Suns, but he set a huge screen that allowed Beal to make the three-pointer with 2 minutes 3 seconds remaining that provided the decisive points.
“I just want to make sure we’ve got to get him open,” Gortat said of Beal. “He had a great game. He was rolling. I don’t want anybody else to have that ball beside him. I wanted to make sure I got a good screen – and the guy won the game for us.”
Gortat had a few playful exchanges with Suns forward P.J. Tucker but kept most of jawing and joking to a minimum. When Beal rebounded Goran Dragic’s missed layup as time expired, Gortat pumped his fists, then spotted John Wall and shouted, “That’s what I’m talking about!” Wall jumped into his chest and Gortat’s Wizards teammates all surrounded him to high-five and pat him on the head.
After the celebration, Gortat walked toward the Suns bench but more of his former teammates had already left the court.
“I tried to limit this. I talked to staff. I didn’t talk to players, I didn’t want to joke around with them and be funny and just try to be as professional as possible,” Gortat said. “I talked to a few of them after the game. I don’t think that there were to many guys trying to shake my hand. Obviously, we beat them. I understand the feelings that they had. I would probably be the same.”
But Gortat didn’t have much time to bask in the victory, with the Wizards having yet another attempt at a winning record on Saturday in Utah. Gortat has had some miserable shooting performances at EnergySolutions Arena. In his past two games in Utah, Gortat has scored a combined three points on 1 of 14 shooting. But he has rebounded well, grabbing a combined 20 boards in those contests.
“Personally for me, I’m looking forward to this game,” Gortat said. “Playing in Phoenix for three years, Utah was the worst gym to play for me. I think the last good game I had agaisnt Utah was 2008, when I was a rookie. For some reason, I can’t perform. I’m looking forward to maybe crack that bad, bad rhythm, finally play well and help the team to win.”