A bad break gave him a shot and a lucky shot provided a breakthrough on Monday for rookie Otto Porter Jr. in the Wizards’ 110-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Wizards found out moments before tip-off that backup swingman Martell Webster would be out with a back injury, meaning that there was a chance – but not a guarantee – that Porter would get some long-awaited playing time. When Coach Randy Wittman finally threw the seldom-used forward into the game with the Wizards trailing by 14 points late in the third quarter, Porter said his goal was to “play my hardest and try to help us come back.”
With the Wizards trailing, 81-64, early in the fourth quarter, point guard Andre Miller lost his dribble and the ball got knocked away and started rolling into open space. Porter found himself in the right spot, scooped up the ball, whirled around and threw up a hurried shot from long distance with the shot clock about to expire. The shot splashed through the net and the crowd celebrated Porter’s first made three-pointer in 11 attempts this season.
“At first, I don’t know how that one went in. but I had to get it up there,” Porter said with a smile. “I didn’t think nothing about it, just tried to get it up at the time, coming down in transition, I wanted to try to make plays for us to get back in the game.”
Grizzlies swingman Tayshaun Prince said he thought that the game turned at that moment. “Kinda right there, kinda to me, I thought like, ‘Man, if you make that type of shot, then here we go in the fourth quarter.’ ”
The Grizzlies would eventually extend the lead back to 19 before the Wizards made four more three-pointers in the period, including another from Porter that brought his team within 102-98 with 1 minute 7 seconds remaining. Porter swung his arms together and screamed, releasing some rare emotion with his rare opportunity to play.
“I was excited, in the heat of the game,” Porter said. “That was big for us. We needed something. We were on a run. We got a couple of stops. We needed a bucket like that push over the hump. Guys that were out there tried to put more pressure on them and chip away at the lead.”
The Wizards couldn’t finish the run but Porter didn’t look overwhelmed despite playing at least 10 minutes for just the second time since Jan. 7. He scored six points, the most since posting a career-high seven on Dec. 30 against the Detroit Pistons.
“I was happy for him,” Bradley Beal said. “It shows he took advantage of his opportunity. Hopefully, moving on forward, he can continue to play and get the time that he deserves. Those definitely were two threes for us, especially the second one down in the clutch to put us down four. He just has to continue to work hard and his chances will definitely keep coming.”
Porter’s solid effort came against the team that he grew up watching and on the same night that he faced Prince, the player to whom he had been compared most before the NBA draft. Prince scored a season-high 21 points and also connected on 2 of 3 attempts from three-point range. During his best years in Detroit, Prince served as a perfect complement to point guard Chauncey Billups and shooting guard Richard Hamilton and helped the Pistons win the 2004 NBA championship.
“I heard,” Porter said of the comparisons recently. “I like his game. Lanky, skilled, shooter, play defense.”
When asked about the comparison on Monday, Prince joked, “I think any guy who is light skinned and thin and can play inside and out is getting compared to me. I’m not bashing the guy, trust me on that. I saw him play in college. Great inside-outside guy, crash the boards, good rebounder, long, athletic defender. I can see the similarities.”
But Prince also went through a similarly disappointing regular season in his first year with the Pistons. Prince appeared in just 42 games with just five starts and averaged 3.3 points and 10 minutes as a rookie. He didn’t get his chance until then-Coach Rick Carlisle threw him on the floor in act of desperation in the playoffs – with the Pistons trailing Orlando three-games-to-one – and Prince responded by scoring 15 points to help Detroit reel off three straight wins and advance to the conference finals. Prince would go on to start 493 of his next 495 regular season games.
“My advice to him is just keep working hard,” Prince said. “I know he was the third pick. I was the 23rd pick. I didn’t play much at all my first year. I was patient enough, worked hard. The next thing you in my second year, I started 118 games and we won an NBA championship. When you’re patient and work on your game, good things will happen for you.”
Wittman stated recently that the NBA Development League was an option for Porter but the team wasn’t ready to make a commitment to protect itself in case of an unfortunate injury. Webster got hurt late in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ win in Philadelphia on Saturday and Wittman is hopeful that he will be available when the Wizards play host to Utah on Wednesday. Porter doesn’t know when he will get another chance but can’t lose focus.
“We’ll see. But I’m going to stay ready,” Porter said. “I look at it as, learn from it. Always stay ready. This was a prime example. We had a man go down today, Martell, so opportunity presents itself, take full advantage.”