Andray Blatche was excited to return to the starting lineup for the first time in five games – until he heard fans at Verizon Center react to hearing his height (6 feet 11), position (power forward), school (South Kent Prep) and name announced during pregame introductions. His picture came across the huge HD screen and boos filled the arena.
Blatche has been jeered all season whenever he made a mistake or took an errant jumper, but never before he took off his warm-ups. The boos stunned and rattled him, making him reluctant – or rather, afraid – to shoot or touch the ball in the first quarter.
He committed a turnover on a terrible attempt at a crossover dribble and heard more boos as Trevor Booker went to the scorer’s table to enter the game in the first period. He was eager to leave – but Coach Flip Saunders sent Booker in to replace JaVale McGee, so Blatche had to endure more boos.
“I know the boos hurt. We’ve got to rally with him and have his back,” Nick Young said.
Blatche is reluctant to admit that the negative response hurt him, especially when he is playing with an injured right shoulder that isn’t close to being healed. When he met with a shoulder specialist last week, Blatche was disappointed to hear that he needed an extensive rehabilitation, but he decided to sit out two games and come back even though he risks making it worse.
“There is a chance, but it’s about sacrificing for the better, helping the team out,” Blatche said. “I came back earlier than expected to help my team out. I fought through it. From the beginning of the season. I decided to play through the pain more.”
In the past two games, Blatche has focused on rebounding and making a more concerted effort on defense, though the latter has still yielded uneven results. He totaled 23 points and 22 rebounds against Houston and Oklahoma City.
After the Wizards defeated the Thunder on Wednesday, Saunders pulled aside Blatche to encourage him and let him know that he appreciated his efforts. “I gave him credit,” Saunders said. “It’s tough when you come into a situation and you don’t get a great response from the crowd and you start out and you don’t play maybe as well as you’d like to, but he kept on fighting and he kept on doing the little things and played very much team basketball.”
Blatche said Saunders told him: “I fought through it, that was good. I could’ve easily got down on myself. But I kept a strong mind-set. He said sometimes, people might not see that you’re doing a good job. But we know as coaches what you’re doing, so continue to help the team.”
Saunders also told Blatche to take an open shot if he gets them. “I told him I passed them up because what was going on out there and I didn’t want to go into a deeper hole and hear some more,” Blatche said of the boos.
Blatche doesn’t know when or if he’ll get the fans on his side, but he is focused on trying to win two games in a row. “I feel it’s something that we definitely have to build on,” Blatche said. “Beating the best team in the league, we can actually use and have a swagger or confidence playing Denver. We go out and beat Denver, it’s a chance for us to turn this whole season around. It’s all about having confidence in one another and having that type of swagger.”
Insider: Saunders gets a victory to savor