- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2015

TORONTOPaul Pierce’s recent comments were not only about the Toronto Raptors. In an ESPN story that was published on April 15, Pierce mentioned that Otto Porter can shoot, drive and defend. Yet, he wondered if Porter realized how good he is. More so, he was curious what it would take to get Porter riled up, joking he should punch Porter one day to stoke his teammate’s desire.

In the preseason, Pierce made similar comments about Porter’s ability, but left out the suggestion of a pugilistic jump start, so it’s not a surprise to see him provide praise late in the season.

On Saturday, a more engaged version of the stone-faced and soft-spoken Porter showed up amid the raucousness in Air Canada Centre. During the Wizards’ 93-86 Game 1 overtime win over the Raptors, Porter was hit in the face, knocked to the ground and went without his goggles for a stretch. He also exploited a role in the shadows when on the court with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Pierce and a post player who can score. That’s Porter’s best fit at this stage of his career. Operating between all the scouting report notes about all-star point guard Wall, the sharpshooting Beal or the Hall of Fame-bound Pierce, Porter can poke and prod his way to influence during the series.

Porter’s statistical line in the opener, like him, was filled with modesty. He scored five points, including an important floater in overtime, and had five rebounds, two assists and a steal. Two of his rebounds were offensive. He knows when the Wizards place their maximum firepower on the floor and fill out group with him what his role is.

“Be an energy guy,” Porter said. “Defending, team defense. Getting the rebounds or just trying to be available. Trying to mix up the defense. Go set screens, flares, just try to be everywhere to make it harder on defense to guard John, Brad, Paul or inside to [Marcin] Gortat or Nene. They forget all about me, I go in and tip the rebound back out and start all over. That’s what my role is.”

The most surprising thing about his stat line was how long he was on the floor. Porter played 33:24 on Saturday, the most he’s played against a team with a record over .500 and only the third time all season he faced one of those teams for more than 30 minutes. Last month, he was in and out of the Wizards’ rotation, averaging just 15.3 minutes per game. To be on the floor in overtime of the first playoff game was a surprise to most. It was not to Porter.

“I know what I can do,” Porter said. “I got to continue to believe what I can do and continue to believe I can help this team in the playoffs.”

Among the other unique things around Porter one game into the playoffs is that he might be the only person to not have heard Pierce’s punch-in-the-face comments. He said he had not read them, but understood that the playoffs would be an increased intensity level compared to the regular season.

“It’s playoff time,” Porter said. “It’s going to be different now. I wouldn’t say angry, but have a mindset that this is business. That’s how the whole team is now. Our attitude is definitely different from the regular season.”

After being nervous before his first playoff appearance, Porter’s day became pleasurable. He said it was apparent the Raptors were frustrated, and that he likes to “get people frustrated,” which may be his edgiest comment since entering the league.

Porter is also watching Pierce’s demeanor, how he handles himself, his focus on the game, how the veteran is “setting the tone.”

Watching Pierce puts Porter in a vast group during this series. Former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez said he was done talking about Pierce after Sunday, acknowledging Pierce’s stature in the game, ability on the floor and how he has enraptured media of late in both cities. But, he’s had enough of the storyline.
“Give him a lot of credit,” Vasquez said. “He’s got you guys’ attention. He’s got everybody’s attention, and if we keep talking about Paul Pierce, this is going to be Paul Pierce’s series. It’s not going to be the Wizards. Just Paul Pierce. What he’s doing is motivating his team. Talking trash.

“Why would we talk trash? We don’t have any trash talkers in our locker room. He does what he does. We respect that. He’s got big balls. That’s the reason he’s ‘The Truth.’”

Before the series, the Toronto Sun created an illustration of Pierce as Gandalf, the elderly wizard from “The Lord of the Rings” series, and dubbed the first-round matchup the “Raptors vs. the dinosaurs.” Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri used an expletive Saturday during a pregame rally when referring to Pierce’s pre-series comments. He was fined $35,000 by the NBA on Sunday “for using obscene language in a public setting.” The Raptors were fined an additional $25,000 for the incident.

In all the commotion, there was not a whisper about Porter from either side. That means he did his job to start the series.

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