When Wizards coach Flip Saunders pulled Andray Blatche aside after a 105-102 upset of the NBA-leading Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, his message was essentially the same one Blatche heard from his teammates right before the game started.
He told him he had his back.
Despite the boos that greeted Blatche as soon as he was introduced in the starting lineup against the Thunder -- and have been relentless every time he has missed a shot this season -- the Wizards have seen their longest-tenured player show a new side since he missed three games last week with an injured right shoulder that still isn't fully healed.
|Nuggets at Wizards|
|When » Friday, 7 p.m.|
|Where » Verizon Center|
|TV » CSN|
"There's a chance," Blatche said about whether he could hurt his shoulder worse. "But it's about sacrifice for the better. I'm helping the team out."
The absence, combined with a move to the bench, gave the seventh-year forward a chance to reflect on his ill-calculated complaints that set the season in motion in awful fashion. In the two games since his return, he has rededicated himself to the team's success and put aside his individual desires, even if it may take a little longer before the Verizon Center crowd forgives him.
"He's adapting well," Wizards guard Nick Young said, "and he feel like he got something to prove again, and he's going to come out and play hard. ... For me, he's a jokester. I know the boos hurt. We gotta rally with him and have his back."
Blatche followed an 11-point, 12-rebound outing against Houston on Monday with 12 points and 10 boards against the Thunder, a game in which he had two opponents: one on the court and the other in the stands.
"I was ready to put my head down [after pregame introductions]," Blatche said. "But Roger [Mason Jr.] came to me and couple of my teammates came to me and said, 'Man, don't worry about it. Just go out and play your game.' That's what I tried to do. I just tried to block it out."
Blatche then prevailed in a physical battle with Kendrick Perkins, holding him scoreless. He also had a pair of steals, a block and four assists.
"I think [other Wizards players] have to do what Dray is doing," Saunders said. "That's, 'Hey, I'm going to play the team game, and somebody else is going to get me going. John [Wall] is going to get me some layups in transition or off pick and rolls. He's going to get me a dunk.' And so that's what I like as far as what he did."
The boos did influence Blatche's offensive game, forcing him frequently to be hesitant and indecisive as he finished with four turnovers. But Saunders, who has felt plenty of heat himself, was proud of his big man for fighting through it and told him so afterward.
"He said that 'sometimes people may not see that you're doing a good job,'?" Blatche said. "?'But we as coaches know what you're doing and just continue to help the team.'?"