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Chief morale officer Anthony Gill gives Wizards a boost in loss to Heat

Chief morale officer Anthony Gill gives Wizards a boost in loss to Heat

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

When Anthony Gill checks out of a game, he high-fives every player on the Washington Wizards’ bench before taking his seat at the end of the row on the floor, where he prefers to view the action. The gesture comes off as encouraging — Gill, after all, is the Wizards’ self-appointed locker room guy, the one who relentlessly lifts up his teammates and tends to the organization’s culture without fail. He takes his job seriously, and it has been an important one this season.

On Sunday night, though, Gill’s high-fives had a touch more muscle behind them. He wasn’t just the guy handling spot minutes and giving interim coach Brian Keefe another healthy body to use with seven players injured — he was on a hot streak. Though the Wizards lost, 119-107, to the Miami Heat to begin a daunting three-game stretch at Capital One Arena, Gill helped keep the home team in the fight and kept the game from becoming a blowout.

“That’s the one thing you can say about Anthony Gill — when his number’s called, he’s ready, he’s going to produce, and he’s going to be able to execute the game plan,” Keefe said. “We always have complete trust in him.”

Given a sprawling injury report, Keefe has had to lean heavily on end-of-bench players such as Gill in this final stretch of the season. On Sunday, the 31-year-old forward supercharged a solid communal effort. He tied a career high with 18 points, hustled on defense to contest a few key shots and grabbed four rebounds.

Jordan Poole led the way for Washington (14-61) with 22 points while going 8 for 20 from the field, including 4 for 12 from the three-point line. Four other Wizards had double-digit scoring nights, beneficiaries of fluid ball movement that led to 27 assists on 40 baskets.

Gill gave his teammates all the credit for setting him up for scoring success, but he was adept at finding gaps in the Miami defense. He shot 7 for 12 in 20 minutes.

“Just watching how we were playing in the first half as a team, I knew what we were doing was going to be effective throughout this game, which was continuing to play team basketball,” he said.

The Wizards, who have lost three in a row since a season-best three-game winning streak, attacked the rim early to keep pace with the Heat until late in the second quarter. After Miami started 0 for 7 from the three-point line, its long-range shots finally started falling.

The Heat snapped to attention at that point — a half-game behind sixth-place Indiana, Miami (41-33) is fighting for the final spot that avoids the play-in tournament — as it went on a 17-4 run that spanned halftime, making five three-pointers in that stretch. Washington faltered from the three-point line (it shot 28.9 percent), and that run was all the Heat needed to grab momentum for good.

“We were missing shots tonight. A lot of open shots that guys [usually] hit, they just weren’t falling today,” said Wizards center Marvin Bagley, who had 12 points.

Even so, the shorthanded Wizards kept at it, lunging for rebounds and playing with pace. They were again without Richaun Holmes (toe), Tyus Jones (back), Kyle Kuzma (heel), Landry Shamet (calf) and Eugene Omoruyi (ankle). Bilal Coulibaly (wrist) and Isaiah Livers (hip) are out for the season. They will be shorthanded again when they host the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

Terry Rozier led Miami with 27 points, and Bam Adebayo had 22. Jimmy Butler added 17.

After his big night, Gill analyzed the game with a tactical eye, noting that the Wizards lost focus in the third quarter when their shot-making faded. But with that, the locker room’s chief morale-booster couldn’t help but dole out positivity, a verbal version of a high-five. He spoke to nearly every teammate’s individual growth this season with impressive specificity, then said he was proud of his Wizards.

“I am so proud of the way that our team has handled a lot of these situations this year. I know from an outsider’s perspective it seems like, ‘Wow, the Wizards are racking up losses,’ but there are a lot of internal wins that we’ve had this year,” he said. “A lot of people don’t see that, but we’re building a foundation. It’s really hard to come and lose every day. And the reason I say I’m so proud of each and every one of those guys is because they’re just fighting so hard.”

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