TORONTO – Trevor Ariza was plowing through a plate of chicken and vegetables in the locker room after the Wizards completed a 3-hour 32-minute marathon with the Toronto Raptors. Ariza usually takes his time to hit the postgame buffet table after road games, but he was in a hurry to grab some grub on Thursday night. Playing almost 50 minutes will do that.
“Pretty tired. Hungry and tired,” Ariza said, when asked about how he felt after the Wizards survived a highly competitive and physically taxing triple-overtime game and left Air Canada Centre with a 134-129 victory. “It was the longest game in the world. You give it all so at the end of the game you’re totally drained. I was drained.”
The Washington basketball franchise hadn’t played a game that needed three overtimes since the Bullets lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, 110-109, on Nov. 15, 1975 – before all but three current NBA players were born (Steve Nash, Derek Fisher and Ray Allen). Wizards broadcaster Phil Chenier was a member of that Bullets team; he and Wes Unseld each scored 25 points that night. When asked his recollection of that contest in the locker room after Thursday’s game, Chenier said, “I don’t remember any of it.”
Chenier’s broadcast partner Steve Buckhantz let him know the Bullets lost that night, to which he said, “That’s probably why I don’t remember.”
The current Wizards probably won’t forget what happened in Toronto for some time. They’ll remember how Marcin Gortat repeatedly rolled to the basket for layups, how Bradley Beal made a game-winner in the second overtime that wasn’t, how John Wall overcame ill-timed turnovers to save his team with clutch scoring and defense, and how everyone who played made some sort of positive contribution. More importantly, they’ll recall how they refused to give into fatigue to claim their only victory this season over the Raptors and extend their winning streak to five games – the team’s longest since April 2012.
When asked afterward if it was the best win of his career, Wall said, “Probably so.”
“Feeling is great. We won the game. We’ve proven that we can beat this team,” Gortat said. “It was a tough game, but in the end we was successful and that’s the most important thing. We really build the chemistry. We really build the team spirit with this win. It gave us a lot of energy for the next games.”
The Wizards (30-28) surpassed their win total from last season and claimed their first overtime victory since Nov. 27 in Milwaukee. They had lost their past four games that went past regulation, including in double overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 5. The Raptors came back from a 12-point second half deficit but neither team led by more than five points in the final 23 minutes.
“It’s mind over matter in that situation. Everybody has nothing left in the tank. It comes down to having will,” Webster said. “Everybody was very poised. You have to be in a situation like that. It’s just back and forth, back and forth. Both teams get stops. Next thing you know, one team is scoring and you’ve got to find a way to get stops, plain and simple. We shut off the water. It was a tight game, all the way down to the end.”
Gortat said he would have to take on a bigger burden on offense after Nene was sidelined with a sprained left medial collateral ligament. And in the first two games without the Brazilian big man, Gortat has had his first two games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season. Washington has won both of them.
Thursday, Gortat had a career-high 31 points and added 12 rebounds and four blocked shots before fouling out to help the Wizards improve to 3-6 this season in games Nene has missed because of injury. They are 10-34 without Nene since he arrived in March 2012.
“Obviously we’re missing Nene,” Gortat said. “He was our big spark in the starting lineup, but we’ve got to play without him for the next few games, the next few weeks. Each one of us has got to step up. I tried to play big. I’m glad I was able to help.”
Gortat, one of four Wizards starters who played at least 49 minutes, was prepared to reward himself by sitting out the team’s scheduled practice Friday in Philadelphia. “The only thing I’m going to do is, I’m going to pull my veteran wild card, because I can’t go,” Gortat said with a laugh. “I want a day off, because I just can’t go. I played 51 minutes and I’m barely standing.”
Wittman made that unnecessary by canceling practice after the team landed in Philadelphia.
Though tired, the Wizards were jovial after the win. When an annoying beeping sound was heard throughout the locker room, Martell Webster had his teammates in stitches when he said Gortat was taking in too much oxygen with his big nose and that the beeping sound was alerting everyone that the levels were getting too low.
Gortat shook his head and laughed. But he also realizes he might be on the receiving end of more jokes after his over-the-top reaction to Beal’s shot at the end of the second overtime. Beal drove around Raptors guard and former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez, then double-clutched as Tyler Hansbrough contested and was about one-tenth of a second too late for the game-winner. That didn’t stop Gortat from picking up Beal and celebrating.
“I’m probably going to make it on ‘Shaqtin’ a Fool’ with that,” Gortat said.
He wasn’t the only one who thought the game was over. “I was ready to go home,” Wall said.
After officials reviewed the play, they determined it didn’t count, forcing the third extra frame. “They reviewed five things and we get didn’t one of them,” Wittman said with a laugh. “I’m calling Adam Silver and telling him to get rid of instant replay. It didn’t help us.”
Wittman certainly had a legitimate argument late in the fourth quarter when Wall tracked down former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez and appeared to swat the layup attempt before it hit the backboard. Referees watched the replay and determined that Wall goaltended, giving the Raptors a 106-104 lead before Gortat forced overtime by putting back a Beal miss with 5.2 seconds left.
Wall also finished 31 points and helped his team win the game on the defensive end. He had a huge block on Kyle Lowry to end the first overtime and collected two huge steals in the third overtime that provided just enough cushion. His first steal landed in Gortat’s hands and he threw a beautiful outlet pass to Ariza – just out of the reach of Raptors all-star guard DeMar DeRozan – for the go-ahead dunk with 80 seconds remaining.
“It was a good pass. A real good pass. Fortunately, it didn’t get stolen,” Ariza said. “I felt DeMar right on my back. It got through and I think that broke the game open for us.”
Wittman joked that watching the game made him exhausted. “It’s hard to put this game into words, with so many changes of emotion, ups and downs. They seemed to have control, and then didn’t. We seemed to have control and then, didn’t. But we kept after it and we were lucky enough. Both teams played good. It’s just one of those games, you hate to see one of them lose.”
And after playing a game neither team wanted to surrender, Ariza said he wasn’t going to stop eating after knocking off one plate. “Oh, I’m going get some more. This is not the end of it.”