Nene powered his way to a game-high 24 points against the Bulls
. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Sport)
It's been six long years for Washington fans since the Wizards last made the playoffs, but Sunday's return to postseason action was about as triumphant as it gets. The fifth-seeded Wizards pulled off an impressive rally in the fourth quarter to earn a a 102-93 road win against the Bulls in Game 1.
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• The Wizards out-Thibodeaued the Bulls. It's near-impossible to outmuscle and outhustle a team coached by Tom Thibodeau and led by Joakim Noah, but the Wizards executed the feat with vigor Sunday. With John Wall and Bradley Beal struggling in their postseason debuts and combining to shoot 7-of-28 (28 percent) from the field, it was Washington's veteran big men that did the heavy lifting against the Bulls. Most dominant of all was Nene, who gave Noah and Taj Gibson fits in the paint and finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with eight rebounds. Marcin Gortat (15 points and 13 rebounds) outplayed Noah (10 and 10) in the battle of centers and Washington's pair of forward Trevors (Ariza and Booker) chipped in 21 points and 13 rebounds combined.
The Wizards has six players finish in double figures, but it was Nene for whom the Bulls had no answer. Washington's versatile big man played his most minutes since February (35) before fouling out in the closing seconds. He went 11-of-17 from the field, using a variety of moves to best the Bulls' elite interior defenders and finish with a perfect mark around the rim:
The Wizards went 10-3 during the regular season when Nene scored at least 18 points and Sunday proved once again just how potent Washington's offense can be -- 112.8 points per 100 possessions against Chicago -- when the 31-year-old forward is able to channel his younger days. Not only is Nene a load on the block, but he's also a skilled interior passer, punishing collapsing defenses. When Nene gets going early, everything about the Wizards' offense seems to click. On Sunday, Washington put up 102 points against the NBA's top-rated defense since Jan. 1 and became just the 17th team in 83 tries to top the century mark against the Bulls this year.
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Adding to Washington's Thibodeau-ian performance was its performance on the boards (winning 45 to 39) and its reliance on its starters (187 minutes to 164). But the biggest signature of a Thibodeau-led team of all is its resiliency, which is exactly the trait that keyed Washington's Game 1 win. Down 13 points in the fourth quarter, the Wizards showed remarkable composure for a team making its first playoff appearance since 2008. They stayed patient on offense and stuck to their assignments on defense, leading to a 30-18 advantage in the final period and, more importantly, a 1-0 series lead.
• Chicago's search for offense remains ongoing. The Bulls' other side of the ball has shown some signs of life this season despite ranking dead-last in shooting percentage and No. 27 in points per possession. They ranked No. 13 in the latter category in April, upping their efficiency from 99.7 to 106. 4, but failed to show any signs of those improvement in Sunday's Game 1 loss.
The Bulls' leading scorers were Kirk Hinrich -- who needed 16 shots to score 16 points -- and D.J. Augustin, who went 3-of-15 from the field (although 10-of-10 from the line). They only managed to get Joakim Noah six shots despite playing him 40 minutes and shot just 5-of-20 from three-point range, adding to their offensive woes.
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Too many possessions ended in heaves from Augustin, who has been a gigantic boon for the Bulls this season but couldn't find his range Sunday. Chicago has had a lot of success this season running its offense at times through Noah, but Washington did a good job of extinguishing those situations, holding Noah to a pedestrian 4-of-6 effort from the field and four assists.
The Bulls did manage to score 93 points, a pretty good output by their standards, but after managing just 39 in the second half and 18 in the final period it's tough to feel good about their offensive performance.
• These two teams are in for a long series. I predicted Bulls-Wizards would go seven games before the playoffs started. I feel even better about that prediction after Game 1, a contest in which Chicago lost despite dominating for three quarters.
The East's 4-5 series is one of the most evenly matched clashes of the eight first-round series, with Chicago ranking No. 12 in net rating (1.9) during the regular season and Washington ranking No. 15 (0.9). Both have bruising frontcourts, elite defenses and middling offenses, leading to slugfests like the one fought out Sunday.
Another variable adding to the series' length: fouls. The two teams combined to commit 51 fouls and attempt 61 free throws in Game 1, leading to a fittingly long game for what could also be a long series.
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