After dropping Games 1 and 2 in Chicago, the Bulls bounced back on the road to beat the Wizards 100-97 in Game 3 on Friday. The Bulls will have a chance to even the series in Game 4 on Sunday.
• Mike Dunleavy saves the day -- and maybe the season. Chicago's reputation as an offensively-challenged team that wins games with defense and willpower is well-earned. The Bulls ranked near the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency this season and routinely labored through extensive cold spells. In Games 1 and 2, their offense kept up with the Wizards through the first three quarters, only to come undone in the fourth. The end of Game 2 was a particularly glaring example of how debilitating the Bulls’ lack of offensive firepower can be, going scoreless for almost eight minutes spanning across fourth quarter and overtime. To have any chance of winning Friday, the Bulls’ offense needed to come to life. Someone needed to step up. Someone had to give them the push that was missing in their first two defeats.
Enter... Mike Dunleavy. The veteran forward knocked down a Bulls playoff record eight three-pointers and poured in 35 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Dunleavy, who scored 20 points over the two previous two games combined, is the biggest reason the Bulls were able to overcome another strong performance from the Wizards’ young backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, who teamed up for 58 points and 12 assists. Though only six of Dunleavy's points came in the fourth quarter, his long-range gunnery – particularly in the third, when he nailed three treys, completed a four-point play and scored 14 points – stretched the Wizards’ defense and gave Chicago the offensive dynamism it desperately needed. Dunleavy repeatedly burned the Wizards coming off screens. Here's his shot chart from Game 3:
Best of all, the Bulls didn't even need Dunleavy to play hero in the fourth quarter. After butting heads with Nene, Jimmy Butler made several key plays down the stretch. His three with 24 seconds remaining broke a 91-91 tie and ultimately put the Bulls in position to close out the game. Butler then followed up by knocking down two free throws with 12 seconds remaining to preserve a three-point lead. He finished with 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in 41 minutes. Had Butler not knocked down that critical three, the Bulls, who held a seven-point lead after a pair of Joakim Noah free throws with 9:42 remaining, might have suffered another fourth-quarter collapse. The Bulls were outscored 51-34 in the fourth quarters of Game 1 and 2. On Friday, they matched the Wizards’ 28 points.
• Maybe the Bulls weren't "done" after all. There was plenty of talk following the Bulls’ Game 2 loss that the series was, for all intents and purposes, over. The consensus was the teams would move to Washington and the Wizards would end the Bulls’ season -- or, at the very least, put it on life support by winning one of two games. The Bulls, seemingly incapable of finding enough offense to match the Wizards, were declared dead.
But those who dismissed the Bulls casually glossed over the reason most analysts picked them to win this series in the first place. Chicago has excelled all season with its backs against the wall. Friday was yet another example. After Beal knocked down a three at the 2:48 mark to give the Wizards a 91-89 lead, less than 20 seconds after Dunleavy drilled his last triple, the Bulls were seemingly confronted with a familiar situation: a late lead slipping away. On the verge of another devastating defeat, Butler hit a big shot and the Bulls held firm. It was the type of resiliency Tom Thibodeau’s team has displayed in previous months, and it was enough for the Bulls to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole.
• Things get chippy between Nene and Jimmy Butler. Wizards forward Nene was ejected with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter after engaging in a physical altercation withButler. After making a layup, Nene turned and extended his left arm into Butler’s midsection as he began to run upcourt. Butler pushed him back, and the two players went forehead-to-forehead and exchanged words. Nene then grabbed Butler’s neck with two hands and seemed to cock his right fist behind his head, as if preparing to throw a punch. After the players were separated, Nene was ejected and Butler was assessed a technical foul.
More SI.com NBA playoff coverage
NBA playoff predictions: SI experts give series-by-series picks
GOLLIVER: Grading all 30 NBA teams’ seasons