Midway through the fourth quarter, the Wizards found themselves in a familiar position, on the verge of relinquishing a big lead and desperately needing a way to regain momentum. Having seen this movie before, Randy Wittman reinserted starters John Wall, Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal along with Rasual Butler and Kris Humphries to try to stop the bleeding. Almost immediately, Marcin Gortat made his presence felt as he had all night, evading a Sixers defender for a reverse layup that got the Wizards back on track.
The Wizards center had 23 points on 10-11 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds as the Wizards outpaced Philadelphia 106-93 at the Verizon Center.
If you expected Gortat to be in a talkative mood after his big performance and his win, you haven't been following the Polish big man over the last month. Gortat once again was reticent to say many words following the victory. What he did say, left questions about how much he is on the same page as his teammates and coaches as the Wizards limp towards the playoffs.
"They were just passing me the ball," Gortat said when asked about what was different tonight that allowed him to be so effective. "I was doing the same thing I do every single game...and they were just passing the ball."
While Coach Randy Wittman said after the game that Gortat's effectiveness was because he was rolling at the rim instead of popping out after screens to look for jumpers, Gortat clearly saw things differently. Responding to a question that referenced Wittman's postgame comments, Gortat seemed perplexed: "I don't know how to answer that question. I am quite sure I am rolling every time."
His postgame comments continued his pattern of terse answers that often implicitly indicate that he is not singing from the same hymnal as Wittman or his teammates. The brevity and tenseness with which he has answered questions over the past month, whether after wins or losses, seem to indicate some underlying discord.
The first signs of tension became visible during the Wizards' rough patch in February. Wizards forward Paul Pierce had strongly contradicted Gortat's assertions about the teams defensive problems in the Wizards 38 point loss home debacle against the Cavaliers. Then after a road loss in Detroit, Gortat found himself on the bench for the entire fourth quarter in a tight loss to Golden State, despite the fact that he had managed 16 points and 11 rebounds in the first three quarters of the game. As Jorge Castillo described it following the loss:
A seething Marcin Gortat, usually gregarious and effusive, was blunt Tuesday night as the Washington Wizards gathered their belongings for a late-night flight to Minneapolis...Visibly perturbed after the game, Gortat said he expected to play in the fourth quarter. Asked if he was discouraged by Wittman's decision to bench him, Gortat declined to respond.
"Uh," Gortat said before pausing for six seconds. "I'll just say next question."
That seething and demurring on questions that might cause him to say something imprudent have been more characteristic of Gortat as of late. After the Wizards loss to the Pacers last week, Gortat referred to the mood in the team's locker room as, "disgusting, very disgusting," while offering a "no comment" when asked what happened on the final, game winning play for Indiana, a play for which he was benched for Otto Porter.
Following the Wizards loss to the Houston Rockets, his teammates John Wall and Paul Pierce seemed to call out him and others for forgetting the plays the team was running.
Gortat for his part, was once again brief and his replies and judicious about the questions he chose to respond to. He could give short but descriptive answers when asked about how Otto Porter played, how the team defended James Harden. More telling, perhaps, are the questions he chose not to answer. After saying the team lacked focus on offense, he was asked why the the team wasn't sharp on offense. "No comment," Gortat smiled and replied. On what's stopping the Wizards from playing their best? "I can't answer that question."
Then, as Michael Lee wrote in the Washington Post, "When asked whether his salty demeanor was indicative of the mood of other players within the locker room, Gortat lowered his head and said, "I just don't want to get fined."
Marcin Gortat is no Marshawn Lynch. His demeanor towards the media is never antagonistic. And Gortat's demeanor certainly isn't a story about how players interact with the media. There have been well too many of those that serve as a Rorschach Test for whatever the writer's preconceived views on the media
That said, one doesn't have to go into Bill Simmons type body language reading to interpret Gortat's demeanor, his responses to the media, and those questions he chooses not to respond to, as indicating an underlying level of dissatisfaction regardless of whether the team wins or he performs well. When he says the only thing that changed against Philly was the team passed him the ball, the obvious read is that on other occasions they don't pass him the ball. When he answers other questions and then deflects a question about why the Wizards have lost their offensive edge, it's hard not see it as questioning the coaching staff.
Whatever the issue is, the Wizards are running short on time to come together as a team and rally for the first round of the playoffs. But as of now, Gortat's frustration level seems to be at the same level where it was a month ago, after the loss to Golden State.
"Out of the roof. Really high."