Marcin Gortat misfired on an exchange with Bradley Beal and watched as Philadelphia 76ers rookie Michael Carter-Williams scooped up the ball and took off up the floor. Refusing to give up on the play, Gortat chased down the speedy Carter-Williams and slapped his shot against the backboard, setting in motion the Wizards’ most prolific shot-blocking performance in two seasons.
Coach Randy Wittman made sure the Wizards were educated on the 76ers’ propensity to get inside despite the absence of a prototypical low-post player. Philadelphia likes to attack the basket on dribble drives – especially by Carter-Williams – which put a lot of pressure on the Wizards’ back line of defense to make sure that the 76ers didn’t have a layup line.
Instead, Washington had a block party in its 107-99 victory over Philadelphia. The Wizards recorded a season-high 12 blocked shots – the most since the team posted 13 on Feb. 3, 2012.
“We talked about it before the game,” Wittman said. “We protected the rim, and got some blocks, and got us out in transition.”
Gortat matched his season high with four blocked shots, including a game-clinching rejection after the starters were put back in the game late in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards let a 21-point lead dwindle to single digits. With Philadelphia trailing by nine with 95 seconds remaining, 76ers reserve Elliott Williams drove inside, Gortat swatted the shot and Beal made two free throws on the other end to let the Wizards relax a little.
“It shows that we were really engaged defensively. We know that we lost the last game. I wish we won that game,” Gortat said. “But today, everyone came ready to play and I was super pumped up.”
With the 2 p.m. tip-off, Gortat predicted that “about a million people were watching the game” in his native Poland. “So, I was excited to perform for my own crowd,” he said.
Since Nene was reinserted into the starting lineup, the 6-foot-11 Gortat has had 12 blocked shots in the past five games and now ranks 11th in the NBA at 1.54 per game.
“It’s big,” Wittman said of Gortat’s defensive presence. “Just legit size alone. Makes a difference when you look at a guy that you have to shoot over that has size. even if you don’t block the shot, it alters the shot sometimes. So his size is crucial for us and he‘s got great hands. So, if he does get a block or a deflection or loose ball, finish at the rim, those are the things he’s done a really nice job with.”
The Wizards have recorded at least 10 blocks in three games this season. On the previous two occasions, the Wizards lost – by 20 in Indiana on Nov. 29 and in overtime against Milwaukee on Dec. 5.
The rejections were critical in helping the Wizards win their second straight game over the 76ers. Nene had two blocks against Philadelphia, spiking a Thaddeus Young shot out of bounds and another offer by Spencer Hawes. Nene has now had at least one blocked shot in eight straight games.
“It’s great to have that help on the back line,” Garrett Temple said. “It allows us guards to pressure up and we knew they like to get a lot of points in the paint and they don’t really have a post guy. They are able to drive penetrate, and it was great for our bigs to have our backs, and get some blocks and that allowed us to get out on the and in transition and that’s what we love to do.”
Temple guided Carter-Williams into Jan Vesely in the second period and Vesely sent the ball soaring into the first row. Vesely almost had another block on former Georgetown player Hollis Thompson but Wall beat him to shot, blocking in against the backboard.
Wall finished with two blocked shots, including another in the first half in which he rejected Evan Turner, grabbed the ball and dribbled up the floor to find Beal for a wide-open three-pointer.
“Everybody was flying around. I tried to take a couple of charges, tried to block a couple of shots, it didn’t work out in my favor but it’s the effort that counts,” Martell Webster said with a laugh. “I’m not John.”
Webster didn’t finish with two blocks like Wall, but he clearly forgot the one that he got. Midway in the first quarter, Philadelphia shooting guard James Anderson drove baseline and Webster slapped down as Anderson went up, forcing a jump ball.
Seven Wizards had blocked shots. It was that kind of night.