Quick Links

Marcin Gortat's rebirth huge for Wizards vs. Hawks in playoffs: 'It's about time to wake up'

Marcin Gortat's rebirth huge for Wizards vs. Hawks in playoffs: 'It's about time to wake up'

What Marcin Gortat has done in the first two games of the Wizards' first-round series vs. the Atlanta Hawks might be his two best performances all season. It's an about-face from where he was three weeks ago.

Why the change?

"The part where you suck. It just tells you that it's about time to wake up and start doing your job. The fact that I got to accept what's going on," said Gortat to CSNmidatlantic.com before the regular season ended. "The fact that this is how it's going to be and I got to perform now and then just keep fighting for my opportunities, minutes, touches, whatever it is. At the end of the day I think that that's what happened. The Utah game is where I started playing better. Maybe numbers don't show but I think it was the turning point."

Gortat, who had begun to lose playing time to Ian Mahinmi after the backup returned from knee procedures, had just four points and 11 rebounds in tha regular-season loss March 31 in Salt Lake City.

[RELATED: Wizards must fix Brandon Jennings' defense ASAP]

Against Atlanta in the playoffs, he has had 14 points and 10 rebounds in both games, each victories, including five blocks in Game 2. And combined he has shot 14-for-21, or 67%, from the field.

Gortat has had far better games than even those statistically speaking, namely 21 points and 18 rebounds in a two-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs. But none of it shows his defensive effort against Dwight Howard, what he does pre-catch to deny him post position, switching out on guards such as Tim Hardaway in space and defending All-Star Paul Millsap when the Hawks go to small-ball at the five.

Mahinmi is out at least the first three games with Atlanta because of a left calf strain. There is no other true center on the roster and Gortat is it. Whatever the Wizards have needed from him, he's given it to them going into Saturday's Game 3 at Phillips Arena.

“I thought he has been great both games. He has an athletic big that can have monster games in Dwight Howard," coach Scott Brooks said. "He’s done a great job of just staying around the basket, staying in front of them. He’s done a good job. That’s what he’s done. He’s a big part of our team, and when he defends he helps us. He’s not known as a defender because he does so many good things offensively, but he knows how to play. He had some tough assignments. Millsap is not an easy guard for anybody to play, and he did a good job of guarding him, also.”

[RELATED: Wizards escape after Beal comes alive in Game 2]

Quick Links

Hawks rookie Taurean Prince proving a thorn in the Wizards' side in NBA Playoffs

Hawks rookie Taurean Prince proving a thorn in the Wizards' side in NBA Playoffs

Following the Wizards' Game 4 loss in Atlanta on Monday night, Brandon Jennings mentioned Hawks rookie Taurean Prince while answering a question that was unrelated to the 2016 first round pick out of Baylor.

"That kid Prince, he's been playing really well for them. We can't let guys like that get off, it hurts us," Jennings said.

Indeed, he has hurt the Wizards. After averaging just 5.7 points on 39.9 percent shooting during the regular season, Prince has reached double figures in each of his four playoff games. Against the Wizards, he's averaging 13.3 points on 63.9 percent shooting. Only three players have shot better in the 2017 playoffs.

Prince is hitting shots from all over. Most of his makes have come close to the basket, but from beyond eight feet he's 8-for-15 in the series. 

"Just his energy and hustle has been great," Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. "His offensive ability has expanded even more so in the playoffs. I think that's very impressive as a rookie to do that. Hopefully his game continues to get better and he can continue to produce at the level he's producing."

[RELATED: Millsap on why he made the 'MMA' comment about Wizards]

Prince, 23, is doing a little bit of everything. He's grabbed at least four rebounds in all four games and in two of them has knocked down a pair of threes. Despite being a rookie and raw offensively. he has just three turnovers.

Prince is playing smart and not making mistakes.

"It feels like Taurean's doing a nice job of letting the game come to him. He's not forcing anything," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think he's focused on his defensive role, his defensive assignment. He's really just staying within himself offensively."

That defensive role has seen him guard multiple positions against the Wizards. He has even spent some time matched up with guards Bradley Beal and John Wall, to varying degrees of success. Mostly, he has been tough to deal with because of his strength and speed.

Prince is tough to deal with in transition and when he moves without the ball. As a result, he's getting his 13.3 points despite being eighth on the Hawks in usage rate.

The Wizards may have not had him near the top of their scouting report entering the series, as Prince was not a major factor on offense during the regular season. But he's found an extra gear in the playoffs and the impact is noticeable.

[RELATED: Howard and Millsap outline simple way they have stopped Wizards' Morris and Gortat]

Quick Links

Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap outline simple way they have stopped Wizards' Morris and Gortat

Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap outline simple way they have stopped Wizards' Morris and Gortat

Markieff Morris may have taken exception with Paul Millsap's comment after Game 1 that the Hawks were more focused on John Wall and Bradley Beal, instead of Morris and his fellow Wizards' big man Marcin Gortat. In the three games since, however, the Hawks have done a solid job against the Wizards' bigs, and Morris in particular.

At Tuesday's practice, both Millsap and Howard explained how they think that method is working. If they worry about the Wizards' backcourt, they feel they can affect the rest of the team from there.

"We've actually just been trying to focus on Wall and Beal," Millsap said. "I guess taking them out of the game not letting them get everyone else involved, I think that's what has helped us out. Those guys really feed off of John's penetration and his ability to pass the basketball. I think that the guards have done a great job of trying to limit that."

The Hawks are second among all playoff teams with 194 paint points compared to the Wizards' 158. Much of that falls on Gortat and Morris, the Wizards' starting big men who are tasked with battling Millsap and Howard on both ends of the floor.

Morris had a terrific first game of the series with 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Since, he's averaged just 7.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 29.6 percent from the field. Morris has been in foul trouble in each of those games, but that is a considerable drop-off. Gortat has continued to rebound well, he had 18 in Game 4, but after scoring 14 points in each of the first two games he's been limited to two points in each of the last two.

[RELATED: Mahinmi optimistic he can return by end of Wizards-Hawks series]

Howard was much more detailed than Millsap in going through exactly what the Hawks have been able to eliminate from Wall that is throwing off both Gortat and Morris.

"It's just reading John Wall and what he likes to do when he gets in the paint. After playing a team a couple of times you get the rhythm of what they want to accomplish on the offensive end. With John when he gets into the paint, as soon as that big helps he's looking to make that quick pass to Gortat or to whoever the big is in the game," Howard said.

"John was doing an excellent job in the first two games of finding March late, to where he could just catch it and finish. We've been trying to take that away and do a good job on the pick-and-roll with John. Force [Wall] to take tough shots. He's been making a lot of tough shots, but we'd rather have that than Marcin getting those easy buckets and getting into a rhythm... It's the same thing [with Morris]. He got a lot of his points off John Wall getting to the basket and making plays. Coming off the pick-and-roll, he's finding Morris. He got a spin-out lob in the first game. It's just taking away those easy buckets and making guys work for shots."

Howard believes cutting off the pick-and-roll and easy assists for Wall makes him uncomfortable. Continue to take away easy looks for Wall and eventually he will start to struggle, too. For Beal, it's about forcing him out of his catch-and-shoot rhythm.

"That's the key in the playoffs," Howard said. "Bradley, he's tough to guard out on the perimeter. He shoots the ball well. He gets his shots with ease. But it's about taking away his [spots] and making him take tough shots. After a while, when you play in a series, your legs start to get up under you. Your arms start to get tired. Those same shots and those same looks that you got in the first game are a little bit different now. We've just gotta make sure those guys work for shots. When they've gotta work extra hard for shots and you're playing a seven-game series, after the first couple of games then your legs are shot and you have to find other ways to score."

Wall is averaging 28.8 points on 50.7 percent shooting in this series, while Beal is at 24.3 points on 41.8 percent. They are the straws that stir the Wizards' drink and will remain the Hawks' focus until the former makes them pay for it.

[RELATED: Millsap on not talking trash, why he made the 'MMA' comment]