After last night’s victory, Kevin McHale stated that he opted to keep Dwight Howard on the bench late in the game because his back had stiffened up. I had been tweeting during the game’s closing minutes that it was a great coaching move on the part of McHale to stick with Motiejunas down the stretch. It’s anyone’s guess whether McHale’s stated reason was true. However, considering that he kept Terrence Jones–who had been beasting up until the fourth quarter–on the bench as well, closing out with Casspi and Motiejunas inside, I suspect McHale’s statement regarding Dwight was given to avoid controversy and that his true intentions were to reward Motiejunas. If I’m right on that, I love it. Either way, I love what happened.
As we are all too familiar, Motiejunas is a player who desperately needed something to go right for him this year. After some nice flashes offensively last season, he’s been chained to the bench since after appearing at times like the worst interior defender in the entire league. A game like last night is exactly what D-Mo needed to prove to himself that he is capable of playing defense in this league. He battled Zach Randolph, one of the most physical power forwards in basketball, and survived. It wasn’t pretty, Z-Bo had his way on a few occasions, and D-Mo took some shots (including an elbow to the throat), but his limbs are still in tact and he’s still alive and standing. Experiences like that are what cause a player to reflect back and build confidence. Hopefully Motiejunas now understands the level of physicality he must bring to earn playing time. And now he knows he’s capable. Had McHale just pulled him after the Dwight danger had passed (Howard was on the bench due to foul trouble), there wouldn’t have been much to draw upon. But the former Celtic great left D-Mo in until the very end. It was a risky move that could have cost the team the game. But its the type of move that Gregg Poppovich would have made, sacrificing a bit in the present for the sake of the future. Maybe its a sign that McHale is settling in?