- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 25, 2015

Pushing the Toronto Raptors to the brink has placed the Washington Wizards in a dominating spot. No team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit in NBA playoff history. The Wizards will try to add to that total Sunday evening at 6:30. in Game 4. Toronto knows the numbers, knows it is on the verge of being swept and that its season is all but officially over. On to the three points from Game 3:

1. Gortat getting it done. Overlooked in this perimeter-oriented series has been Wizards center Marcin Gortat. In particular, his work in Game 3. Gortat finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks. Gortat was not on the floor in the fourth quarter during the three regular-season games against Toronto. He has been on the floor often in the fourth quarter during this playoff series, with Paul Pierce at power forward and Otto Porter at small forward. As the series has moved forward, Gortat has continued to improve. He scored eight points in the opener, then 16 in Game 2 before his 24 Friday night. He’s shooting 70 percent in the series. “I thought Marc was solid again in the middle for us,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.” Really big.”

Gortat seems to be reverting to his gregarious self. Often after the All-Star break, his time with the media changed from an amusing five minutes to brief answers and a clear preference to get out of the locker room without talking to reporters. After Game 3, he was back toward his happy self. Asked before the playoffs to explain his frustrations during the season, Gortat said, “Ask me at exit interview.” Also asked at one point in March during a strong run on the floor what was going better, Gortat said, “They’re passing me the ball.”

“What Gortat needs to realize is if he just continues to screen and roll to the basket, he’s going to get the ball,” Bradley Beal said with a smile Friday night. “They’re not going to let me and John [Wall] come off free, or Paul. He needs to just set a screen, roll right up under the basket, catch it and finish. He’s just been terrific. He’s rebounding well and he’s finding his spots in the right ways.”

2. Sessions provides an option. Flipping Andre Miller for Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline was a light and lucky move. The Wizards could only trade Miller because his former coach, George Karl, made his way back into the league when the Sacramento Kings fired Mike Malone early in the season. Karl’s relationship with Miller enabled the Wizards to pick up Sessions, who provided more speed and different spacing than Miller. At the time of the trade, there was a bit of a cringe locally. Miller had played an important role in the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls last season. Though, in a more perimeter-oriented series against the Raptors, Sessions has provided an option that Miller would not have. He’s fast enough to track Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams when he plays next to Kyle Lowry. Sessions said he’s also been on Lowry and Greivis Vasquez. His minutes aren’t hefty (14.3 per game) and his shooting has been poor (27.3 percent on 11 attempts; 2 for 5 from 3), but his flexibility has helped. Here’s how he explains his role when on the floor with Wall: “Whoever gets it, go. The other guy run the wing. Just attack, really. With him out there, attack, attack and put pressure on the defense.”

3. Avert the spurt. Toronto came into the series tied for fourth in points scored in the league during the regular season. Only the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors scored more. The Raptors were also fourth in offensive rating and eighth in effective field-goal percentage. Yet, the Wizards have locked them up. Hop into the small sample of three postseason games, and the Raptors are 12th out of 16 teams in field-goal percentage. They are 15th in 3-point percentage. With such woeful offense over three games, they have never been able to get going. In Game 1, their largest run was 5-0. In Game 2, it was 12-2 to start the game before the Wizards rallied to blow them out. In Game 3, the Raptors produced two separate 7-0 runs. During the second half of the regular season, the Wizards did not handle runs from opponents well. The phrase Wittman often used was “we stopped playing.” A run would start, the Wizards’ offense would stumble, the defense would suffer, big trouble would follow. Not so thus far against Toronto.

“I’ve seen great resolve in them, in terms of when they’ve gotten hit with a spurt, that we’ve stayed the course,” Wittman said Saturday. “We didn’t hit any panic buttons. We understand what was happening and tried to curtail it. We’ve done that pretty well in the first three games. We’re going to get hit with one [Sunday]. How you recover from that is always the key.”

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