After Trevor Booker clobbered Pau Gasol and shoved Andrew Bynum – picking up his fourth and fifth fouls in a 10-second span – with nearly three minutes remaining in the Wizards’ 106-101 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Coach Randy Wittman had to pause and think: Should he give Booker a breather, save him for the final minute or two? Or should he just let Booker finish and hope he can keep his elbows and hip-checks under control?
“I was worried. He got his fifth foul there with three minutes to go, and maybe we’d just – I don’t know what I was going to do,” Wittman said. “I couldn’t take him out.”
And Booker’s strong finish let Wittman know that it was the right move. With the Wizards clinging to a three-point lead with 89 seconds remaining Booker got position and rebounded a Kobe Bryant missed three-pointer, setting up a Nick Young jumper that extended the lead to five. Then, after Gasol dunked to bring the Lakers back within 104-101 with 37.9 seconds left, John Wall missed a fallaway jumper but Booker tracked down the loose ball, allowing the Wizards to maintain the possession.
“Book got a big rebound at the end there,” Wittman said.“He was really, really big. Book was all over the place.”
The 6-foot-8 Booker grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds, scored 18 points and even made his first career-three-pointer when he took a pass from John Wall just inside the halfcourt line and buried a long jumper as time expired to end the first half.
He entered another game with a severe height disadvantage against the imposing Lakers front line of 7-foot towers, Bynum and Gasol. But after battling with Dwight Howard last week, Booker certainly wasn’t intimidated. He was physical and aggressive, as he effectively used his fouls and tenaciously attacked the glass, grabbing more rebounds than anyone else on the court.
“They got some big guys. We just wanted to be physical with them from the get-go, don’t let them get around the basket because they’re a good passing team, they like to throw lobs up to each other so we had to keep them away from the basket,” Booker said.
Reserves Nick Young, Kevin Seraphin and Roger Mason Jr. were instrumental to the Wizards’ impressive victory, but Booker was the only starter who stayed on the floor throughout the game-changing 32-7 run that turned a 21-point deficit into a four-point lead. Booker helped start the rally with a high-flying putback dunk, and continued to contribute with a steal and a fastbreak layup, celebrating by skipping and nodding after he brought the Wizards within 83-79 near the end of the third quarter.
Booker wouldn’t score again. He should’ve had more points but missed four free throws, including two in the closing seconds. Still, Booker said it “was one of those nights. I had a lot of energy . . . and I was just trying to go after every rebound.”
Booker almost succeeded. He played all but one second in the second half, grabbing 13 rebounds, including six offensive, and inspiring the Wizards’ spirited comeback with his boundless energy.
“We just started playing hard,” Booker said. “We knew at halftime that we had to make some adjustments and come out and play harder. They had a game last night so we knew they were tired. We just kept fighting back, and they gave in.”