Nene and Wall combined for 44 points in the Wizards
' Game 5 victory. (Gary Dineen/National Basketball Association)
After rolling to a comfortable win in Game 4 on Sunday, the Wizards beat Chicago, 75-69, Tuesday night in Game 5 at the United Center to close out theit first-round playoff series. Washington will take on either the Hawks or the Pacers in the second round.
• Washington hitting its stride. History was weighing against the Bulls on Tuesday night. Dating to last season, Chicago had lost its last five home playoff games. What’s more, Chicago has never come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series, nor have the Wizards failed to win a series after going up 3-1. In fact, the last team to win a series after falling behind 3-1 was the Suns, who did it in 2006 against the Lakers.
Of course, focusing on the past ignores the massive challenge Chicago needed to overcome on the court: A Washington team that, over the last four games, had established itself as perhaps the top threat to Miami in the Eastern Conference. Whether the Wizards have truly earned that status will be determined in the later rounds of the playoffs.
The more immediate takeaway is that Washington is moving onto the second round, with some time to rest before facing either the Hawks or the Pacers. This marks the first time the Wizards have advanced in the playoffs since 2005, when, coincidentally, they beat the Bulls.
Like they did in Games 2 and 4 – when they opened up leads of 17 and 15 points, respectively – the Wizards set the tone in the first quarter. John Wall, who finished with a game-high 24 points and seven rebounds, knocked down two free throws to make it 21-13 with 3:07 remaining, and then converted a layup a little more than a minute later for an eight-point lead. The Bulls shot just 26 percent in the opening period, while Washington shot 55 percent.
Chicago used a 15-4 run, punctuated by a powerful dunk from Taj Gibson, to take a one-point lead in the second quarter, but late in the third, Washington regained control, as Bradley Beal knocked down a jump shot to push the Wizards’ lead to eight. Although the Bulls were able to narrow the deficit in the fourth, a series of baskets from Wall, plus a couple of key offensive rebounds from Marcin Gortat, allowed Washington to hold on.
Any explanation for why the Bulls were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, after most analysts picked them to advance, cannot overlook one fundamental truth: The Wizards are the better team. In Game 1, Nene dominated Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and the Bulls’ frontcourt for 24 points and eight rebounds. In Game 2, Beal went off for 26 points, including nine in a pivotal stretch late in the fourth quarter. In Game 4, with Nene sidelined due to a suspension, Trevor Ariza erupted for 30 points.
On Tuesday, the Wizards grinded out a win in an ugly, low-scoring affair in which they shot just 2-of-9 from three-point range and Ariza and Gortat scored a combined eight points. But even though Washington’s shots weren’t falling, they made it up for it on the other end of the floor by holding Chicago's stagnant offense to 33.3 percent shooting and a season-low 69 points. The performance was in keeping with the identity the Wizards established in the regular season; they ranked ninth in the league in points allowed per possession.
The Wizards’ defensive baseline, combined with the array of offensive threats it flaunted in this series, will serve them well as they move on to they move on to the conference semifinals.
• Nene returns with a flourish. The most impressive part about Washington’s 11-point, Game 4 win on Sunday was that Nene did not play. The 6-foot-11, 250-pound center who dominated Game 1 was hit with a one-game suspension for his role in an altercation with Jimmy Butler late in Game 3. He returned Tuesday night, and the Bulls seemingly could not stop him.
Nene repeatedly beat Chicago’s coverage with his diverse array of scoring moves. Frequently drawing Noah -- who was dealing with a knee injury -- as a defender, Nene bulled his way into the paint and faced up for jump shots. After Chicago knotted the score right before halftime, Nene gave the Wizards a two-point lead with a 19-foot jump shot early in the third quarter, then connected for another jumper less than two minutes later.
Nene finished with 20 points on 10-of-17 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out seven assists. Check out his shot chart from Game 5.
•Gibson goes down. Midway through the fourth quarter, Bulls forward Taj Gibson, who in Game 4 scored a career-high 32 points, rolled his ankle on Wall’s foot after elevating to contest a shot. Gibson has been a key part of Chicago’s fourth-quarter rotation for months, and his departure created yet another obstacle for the Bulls. Gibson was carried to the locker room and did not return.
The Wizards held a six-point lead when Gibson went down. He was replaced by Carlos Boozer, who knocked down a long jump shot to make it a three-point game with 3:31 remaining. The Bulls never got closer than that, and Beal knocked down two free throws with seven seconds remaining to seal the win.
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