INDIANAPOLIS — In the back of his mind, Drew Gooden had to wonder if those Bikram Y oga sessions and pickup games with NBA wannabes would wind up being in vain. Gooden had to hold on to the hope that eventually some team would pluck him out of involuntary retirement and give him a call after the Milwaukee Bucks flicked him away like lint after last season.
If Gooden ever experienced doubt when he worked out on his own at an Orlando YMCA or a fitness center in Montgomery County, he could always lean on the story of former NBA player Tim Thomas, who was discarded by the Chicago Bulls in 2006 and forgotten until he reemerged months later as an unlikely hero during the Phoenix Suns’ run to the Western Conference finals.
“I used that as motivation that it can be done,” Gooden said.
Gooden’s faith was rewarded in Monday’s 102-96 victory at Indiana in Game 1 of the second-round playoff series. Called off the bench in the first half by Coach Randy Wittman when top reserve big man Trevor Booker struggled to summon his usual energy, Gooden finished the game with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
“Thanks to him, obviously, we got this win,” said Marcin Gortat, crediting Gooden for the Wizards’ dominance on the boards. “It was all about Drew Gooden. He was just outstanding. I guess they just underestimated this guy and, you know, he brought it. He’s a veteran. He’s a talented guy and you know, he knows how to put himself in the position to rebound the ball, and his timing today was very good.”
Gooden, 32, one of just three Wizards born before Washington last won a second-round playoff game in 1982, became the first player in the shot clock era to have at least 12 points and 13 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action.
“That’s a wow to me,” Gooden said, “because I know it’s been a lot of better players, a lot of greats that had that opportunity but to throw Drew Gooden in that mix, I’m flattered.”
Gooden helped the Wizards outrebound the Pacers, 53-36. He also had seven offensive rebounds, one more than the entire Pacers team, and bounced all over the floor in relentless pursuit of the ball. The Wizards had 14 more second-chance points than Indiana, which proved to be difference in a game in which both teams shot worse than 42 percent from the floor. Washington missed 49 shots.
“If you ever have that many chances at the basket, you’re probably going to shoot a low percentage, getting 17 offensive rebounds,” Gooden said. “But when you get two, three shots at the basket on one possession, eventually one of those shots is going in.”
Gooden hadn’t played in the NBA this season before the Wizards took a chance on him in late February. Then he saw his playing time diminish after Nene returned from a sprained knee late in the regular season. Gooden received more than five minutes just once in the first round against the Chicago Bulls and sat the entire Game 5 clincher. But he has remained in playing shape and blended with his new team as if he had been a part of it since training camp.
“One thing about Drew, he’s a veteran player, so he understands the game very well. He loves basketball. He kept himself in shape when he wasn’t playing and that was big for him,” said Trevor Ariza, who scored 22 points in Monday’s win. “He wasn’t out of touch at all. He fit right in to what we were doing here. Toward the end of the season and in the first round, he didn’t play that much, but he kept himself ready and he’s hungry. He wants to play.”