When Kelly Oubre Jr. came out of the second quarter with five minutes left until halftime in the Washington Wizards‘ 123-101 Game 5 loss, he leaned against the scorer’s table for a moment and just watched. It’s a pose power forward Markieff Morris usually strikes before he checks out, a relaxed stance that portrays comfort, a reminder that the veteran Morris doesn’t need to retreat to the friendly confines of his team’s bench right away.
For Washington’s youngest player, it looked natural.
Oubre faced a barrage of chants from a packed TD Garden in Game 5, just as he knew he would during his first trip back to Boston after serving a one-game suspension for shoving the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk to the ground in Game 3 at home. “We want Ou-bre” came first, before the small forward had even checked in. Then a chorus of “Ou-bre, Ou-bre” took over when he actually played in the second quarter. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the rowdy crowd had added profanity to the chant. Fans weren’t shy about professing their vitriol.
“Um, I still hear my name ringing in my head because that’s all I heard when I was on the court, but I was just going out there to play,” Oubre said in the locker room after. “Play hard, deny [Boston’s Isaiah Thomas], just be everywhere on the court. Obviously a couple guys off the bench got hot, that was unexpected, but it happens. I felt I went out there and tried to give my all. Be comfortable in an uncomfortable environment. I think I did pretty well.”
Oubre turned in a solid 20 minutes. On defense, he shadowed Thomas, chased him down and was a large part of holding the point guard to just one point in the second quarter, when Oubre was on him most. The small forward had 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the field, hit one of five attempted three-pointers and grabbed three boards in all.
“When I checked in, I was locked in on Isaiah. A couple of baskets, a couple of rebounds came my way but my main priority is defense,” Oubre said. “I’m out there trying to cause havoc and give guys energy. Trying to talk, be as vocal as I possibly can because we need an anchor on the defensive end. That’s all I’m trying to do, focus on what I can do.”
Oubre had been taking advice from older teammates all week leading up to Game 5. Some advised him to pack earplugs to block out the noise, and John Wall even joked that Oubre would probably get more boos than him (Oubre did).
But mainly, the attention served as motivation for Oubre, who relished being in the spotlight as an aggressor Wednesday night. He’ll deal with the taunts if it means returning to TD Garden on Monday for Game 7.
“I mean, that was definitely expected, I wasn’t really surprised with anything that I heard,” Oubre said when asked about the profanity in particular. “Just the amount of people yelling my name, just singling me out is crazy. But it’s definitely a blessing to be in this position. Monday, I want to get back here — we have to get back here — so we have to take care of business at home and get back here so I can hear my name some more. That’s the goal, and that’s what we got to do.”