With a right hip flexor injury stunting his development and the surprising career-year of Trevor Ariza ensuring that his playing time would be sparse at best, rookie Otto Porter Jr. has had to wait for one of two situations to get some extended minutes this season: either an injury to Ariza, Martell Webster or Bradley Beal or a blowout, one way or another.
Ariza, Webster and Beal have been healthy for most of the season, and the Wizards’ inability to hold on to seemingly comfortable leads has limited the opportunities for the third overall pick from Georgetown to even taste garbage time.
But around the time that Washington’s Al Harrington made back-to-back three-pointers to give the Wizards a 33-point lead over the Boston Celtics with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter Wednesday, the Verizon Center crowd could sense that any suspense about the outcome had been eliminated, and a chorus of calls for Porter to enter the game overwhelmed the arena.
“Of course,” Porter said when asked if he heard his name chanted during the Wizards’ 118-92 victory, which clinched the franchise’s first playoff berth in six years.
Wittman would make Porter and the fans sit anxiously another five minutes before sending Porter to the scorer’s table. The fans erupted, offering their loudest ovation up until that point, when Porter finally removed his warmups.
Nineteen seconds after he stepped onto the floor, Porter ran to the left corner in front of the Celtics’ bench, took a pass from Harrington and buried a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 109-81 lead, triggering the postseason celebration. Porter has only made three three-pointers this season, a shot he has to make to fit in Wittman’s interchangeable-wings offense — and a shot that has given him trouble. He missed his first 11 attempts from long distance this season.
“I’ve been working all year for that shot to go down. Just seeing it go down definitely boosted my confidence level back up,” Porter said. “It’s definitely been a process, taking that corner shot. I got rewarded for it, by working hard at it.”
Porter finished the night by scoring a career-high nine points in less than six minutes of action, while going 3 of 3 from the field, in the Wizards’ most lopsided win of the season (Washington has won just two games by at least 20 points). He drove left around Celtics guard Chris Johnson, then got fouled while making a fadeaway jumper over Celtics center Kelly Olynyk. He then ended the scoring for the night with 41.8 seconds left when he tipped in a Kevin Seraphin shot with his left hand.
“I was just trying to come in and continue to play,” Porter said. “Coach said, ‘This is an opportunity for you and make the most of it.’ And I did.”
The opportunities to perform were few and far between in recent weeks for Porter, with him appearing in just two of the previous 13 games and collecting two points and two rebounds in a paltry five minutes. Wittman denied that the calls from the crowd influenced him to toss Porter into the game against the Boston and once again came to the defense of his seldom-used rookie.
“He’s going to play,” Wittman said. “Otto has been great. It has been a tough year in terms of playing time. Otto is going to be fine. I am excited about what Otto is going to be in this league. The opportunity with being hurt early and not playing for the first 20 games and not stepping on the floor was a lot for him. We had good play with guys ahead of him, but I love what I’m going to be able to do in coaching this kid. He’s going to be a player in this league.”
Porter reluctantly spoke to reporters after the game, believing that the players who made the most contributions this season – and Wednesday night, in particular – should be more of the attention. He has been understandably frustrated and disappointed with his infrequent playing time, but those emotions have been balanced by being a part of a team that is headed to the postseason for the first time since he was a sophomore in high school.
“It’s huge. I just want to do this thing together with this team, going to the playoffs. We’ve worked hard all year and to get rewarded with making the playoffs is huge for us,” Porter said. “It means a lot to this organization, to come out, to get this win, to clinch the playoffs. It’s what we’ve been keying on since the first day we all came together before training camp. This is definitely a big accomplishment for us.”