Three-Pointers: Wizards survive in OT to beat Chicago, take 2-0 series lead
Two days after rallying to win Game 1, Washington used another late comeback to force overtime and edge the Bulls, 101-99. The Wizards, with a commanding 2-0 series lead, will host Chicago for game 3 on Friday.
• Washington resilient again. Jimmy Butler made two free throws with about seven minutes to go to put the Bulls up 87-77. Chicago had absorbed Washington’s early scoring barrage, steadied itself and overcome a 17-point deficit to take what seemed like a commanding late-game lead. The Bulls appeared in position to pull away and draw even in a series pitting two teams that, at the outset, looked relatively evenly matched. But Chicago never provided the knockout blow it needed, and the Wizards ripped off a 20-4 run spanning the fourth quarter and overtime to win Game 2.
The Bulls are often lauded for their toughness and composure. But in the first two games of this series, Washington has been the more resilient team when it mattered most. The Wizards’ comeback was reminiscent of the way it stormed back to beat Chicago in Game 1 on Sunday. The Wizards trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter but wound up outscoring the Bulls 30-18 and winning by nine. Down by 10 Tuesday, Washington, again, did not succumb.
Rising star Bradley Beal, who shot just 3-of-11 from the field in Game 1, propelled the Wizards on a blistering closing stretch. He nailed a jump shot at the 7:40 mark, then canned a three around the five-minute mark to slice Chicago’s deficit to four. Beal connected again from beyond the arc less than two minutes later to get Washington within two, then scored three points in a 30-second stretch to knot the game at 91. Beal finished with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-20 shooting and seven rebounds, giving Chicago fits with his ability to both penetrate and stroke jump shots. If he struggled in Game 1, Beal’s performance in game 2 -- more specifically, during that late, game-turning blitz -- was nothing short of excellent.
In overtime, Beal handed the closer torch to Nene, who drilled two jumpers and dunked to help Washington open up a six-point lead and hold on for the win. Nene, who made big play after big play in Game 1, tallied 17 on 8-of-13 shooting and seven rebounds.
• Beal, Wall step up. Washington’s Game 1 victory over Chicago wasn’t just an impressive display of resiliency. It seemed to augur future success for the Wizards. John Wall and Beal shot just 7-for-28 from the field … and the Wizards still scored 1.128 points per possession against one of the best defensive teams in the league. It was veterans Andre Miller, Nene, Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza that shined, the talented youth that wilted under the playoff spotlight. Their performance begged the question: What would happen if Beal and Wall bounced back? What if Washington’s young guards actually played well? Chicago found out Tuesday night.
Abetted by significant contributions from Nene and bench production from forwards Martell Webster and Trevor Booker (19 combined points), Wall and Beal carved up Chicago’s stingy defense, teaming for 16-for-35 shooting from the field for 41 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. While Chicago did a good job keeping Beal and Wall in check through most of game 1, there were times Tuesday night when the Bulls looked lost trying to guard the Wizards’ backcourt duo – particularly in the first half, when Beal and Wall combined for 27 points. Beal was clearly the better of the two, but Wall’s efforts should not be overlooked.
Wall set the tone early when, in the first two minutes, he drilled a long jump shot, rebounded a missed three and fed Nene for an 18-footer. By the time the Bulls called their first timeout, with 6 minutes 13 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Wall had played a big hand in helping the Wizards jump out to a 15-6 advantage. Just before halftime, with the Wizards' lead slipping, Wall knocked down a free throw and three jump shots and assisted on another to keep the Bulls at bay. Wall finished with the same number of points (16) as he scored in game 1, but he shot a higher percentage from the field, dished out one more assist and was particularly effective in the first half, scoring 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
Beal asserted himself in crunch time, scoring nine points in the final five minutes of regulation as Washington worked to erase a late lead and force overtime. In Game 1, Washington was able to win despite Beal having an off game because other players – including Nene (24 points), Ariza (18 points) and Gortat (15 points) – stepped up. The Wizards needed Beal at his best Tuesday night, and he delivered. Beal repeatedly burned Chicago’s defense with his rim drives and long range shots. Had Beal not caught fire late in the fourth quarter, there’s a strong chance the Wizards wouldn’t have even made it to overtime.
Performances such as this one from Beal and Wall inspire confidence in what the Wizards can potentially achieve in the later rounds of the playoffs.
• Is Chicago done? Teams rarely come back from a 2-0 deficit to win seven-game series. Setting aside statistical precedent, though, the most important question, at the risk of stating the blatantly obvious, is whether Chicago can beat Washington right now. In the first two games of this series, the Bulls have come undone in the fourth quarter, seemingly running out of energy, of the grit they've been able to summon for months, when they could least afford to.
GIF via Eye on Basketball
It’s been said that to advance in the playoffs, Chicago will have to “fight” and “out-hustle” opponents. That approach worked throughout much the regular season, even as the Bulls lost two of their best players to injury and trade, respectively. But in the postseason, when teams seem to hit another gear, the Bulls’ win-by-force-of-will MO might not be enough. Effort and desire can only get a team so far. Still, it's unlikely the Bulls will mail it in. Expect them to continue to fight, literally.
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