WASHINGTON -- Nene was all smiles Friday following a thrilling 112-108 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets that saw him lead the Washington Wizards down the stretch with 12 fourth-quarter points (including the tip-in that forced OT) and a one-handed assist from the baseline on Trevor Ariza's go-ahead three pointer with 41 seconds to play.
"Amazing game. Good for who watch the game, and very sore, very painful for who play," Nene said, with a big grin.
In addition to his glee over a huge win, another thing Nene made clear postgame was the growing camaraderie between himself and new frontcourt mate Marcin Gortat. The Wizards' big men stuck around in the locker room after most of their teammates had already left, and when asked how the two were learning to play alongside one another, Nene was in a joking mood.
"Chemistry is developing, but he owe me like $150 for the free pass," Nene said mischievously. "So look at him, and make him pay me."
Gortat explained that Nene was referring to all the open looks he'd given The Polish Hammer by drawing double teams down low and dumping the ball off.
"I owe him some money right now," Gortat admitted. "I already asked him if he takes cash or Visa, MasterCard. I asked him about checks. He said he doesn't take checks. He's afraid they might bounce back."
Gortat made it known on Twitter right after he was traded for Emeka Okafor and Washington's 2014 first-round draft pick that he liked the prospect of playing alongside Nene, who himself was positively giddy, as well.
Though it's a small sample, the early returns suggest the duo had reason to be excited. With Gortat coming off the bench in the season opener and Nene hurt the next two games, the Wizards began the season 0-3 without both big men together in the starting lineup.
Since Nene returned against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Wizards are 2-0, and he and Gortat have combined to average 32 points, 18.5 rebounds and three blocks. In the 57 minutes of court time the two have shared, the Wizards have scored 33 more points than their opponent.
"We got this little rule: He can score everything he wants, I'm going to play D, I'm going to get all the rebounds," Gortat said. "I came here to do the job, the stuff I'm doing under the basket. Rebounds, blocks, play some defense, and try to use opportunities in the offense. As long as we win the game, I'm good with that."
Individually, both players shined against the Nets, particularly Nene, who finished with 20 points (on 8-of-12 shooting), eight rebounds and three assists while holding future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett to four points on 2-of-11 shooting. Nene called Garnett "the top of the best power forwards in the history of basketball" and his third-quarter block of KG's dunk attempt "a great moment."
"I think the holy spirit push me right there," he said.
But it was Nene's performance at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime that really stuck out. With two minutes remaining in regulation and the Wizards trailing 96-91, Nene completed three-point plays on consecutive possessions to put the Wizards up 97-96. After a Lopez free throw and Garnett jumper gave Brooklyn back the lead, Nene tipped in John Wall's missed layup to knot the score at 99-99 with 1.2 seconds left.
"Nene was tremendous," Gortat said. "He brought us back. Basically, he won this game by himself."
In overtime, Nene stripped Andray Blatche at the top of the key, ran the fast break and assisted Beal on an emphatic slam over Paul Pierce. Later, with the Wizards down 106-105, Nene drove baseline and, trapped under the basket, found Ariza standing alone above the break for a wide open three and 108-106 lead with 40.9 seconds to play.
"I looked at the Brooklyn bench, looked like a choir. Everybody say, 'F!'" Nene recalled of Ariza's shot.
"Nene was huge in that fourth quarter and overtime, no question about it," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I've stated this a number of times - he's so important to us, not just points and [on] stat sheets. It's not a stat sheet thing with me. His presence on the floor goes a long way, both offensively and defensively."
As for Gortat, he recorded his third consecutive double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but he struggled in the first half defending Brook Lopez, who entered intermission with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
"I started personally very bad. Lopez was scoring left and right," Gortat said.
But Lopez scored only five points in the second half, as Gortat did a better job of muscling up and not allowing Brooklyn's All-Star center to establish deep post position.
"First of all, he didn't catch the ball too easy. Second thing, I was just more focused. I was just more locked in to play simple defense. In the first half he was scoring from the putbacks, from drives and dishes...You've got two halves, 48 minutes. You got perform the second half, and I was glad I was able to bounce back in the second half, at least."
"Marc had a tough matchup. Lopez, I told you guys before the game, I think he's one of the best centers in the league and he played it like that first half," Wittman said. "And then, you know what, [Gortat] buckled up his chin strap and went after him, and I thought he battled him in that second half as good as you could battle a guy of his caliber."
If the last couple games are any indication, we could be in for some fun times with Nene and Gortat manning the Wizards' frontcourt.
Thomas mentioned to me during the Nets game how the Wizards are the rare perimeter-oriented team that basically starts two centers. It may seem like an odd pairing given that neither can really spread the floor and help create space for shooters, but so far, it's worked.
"One thing Gortat always say, since he came here, is keep belief in each other, and that's what happened [against the Nets]," Nene said. "We started to play the right way, passing the ball, sharing with each other, make our teammates better."
And luckily for fans and bloggers alike, the duo appears to mesh as well off the court as they do on it. As evidenced by the incredible Instagram photo above, Nene has been giving Gortat rides back and forth from the airport for Wizards road games. But given that his car recently arrived from Phoenix, Gortat said after the Nets game that things might have to change.
"I guess now I have to give him a ride because, first of all my car is finally here, and the second thing, after all these passes I should actually drive his butt around here now," Gortat said with a laugh.
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