So Over, So Far To Go: Why the Wizards Won’t Screw This Up
The Wizards vs. Bulls first-round series is over. By the numbers, the Wiz are 5-0 all-time in best-of-7 series when they lead 3-1. The Bulls, when trailing 1-3, are 0-8.
Don’t put much stock in the historical data? Take a look at the present set. The Wizards have out-scored the Bulls in the first quarter in each of the first four games by an average of 6.3 points. The frontcourt battle has been competitive, but the Wizards still have a 10-point edge, 51-41 (even with Nene suspended for Game 4). The backcourt battle, however, hasn’t been close: John Wall and Bradley have out-scored Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler in the four first quarters by a total of 52-27.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Bulls.
“It’s kind of been a thing of the series,” said Kirk Hinrich post-game. “We really struggle to get off to good starts and we are conscious of it and we did it again [on Sunday].”
“It’s frustrating,” said Taj Gibson. “We always talk about it, but we start the game and it’s just the same thing over and over again: they come out and they always hit us first. Like Thibs said, ‘The game is a 15-round slugfest, but for it to go that far you got to really outrun them.’”
Running with the Wizards is something the Bulls can’t do. Not even with Taj Gibson averaging 19.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game (he averaged 13 points per game in the regular season), and shooting better than 60 percent from the floor in the series. In Game 4, Gibson scored a career-high 32 points, going 8-for-8 in the first half and finishing 13-for-16 from the field. But no other Bulls player scored more than 16 points. Chicago, at one point early in the fourth quarter before a furious but ultimately fruitless comeback, was down 23 points.
“We got too many weapons,” Marcin Gortat said after the 98-89 Wizards win. “They gotta make a decision: are they gonna pick me up on the roll, John on the drive, or leave shooters open in the corners—one of four*? And then Nene is gonna be back, so he’s gonna be another threat inside.”
*For the first time in franchise history, the Wizards had four players make 100 or more 3s in a season: Trevor Ariza (180), Martell Webster (146), Bradley Beal (138), and John Wall (108). The Wizards were also the only team in the NBA to have three players average 1.9 or more made 3s per game.
Beal is making half of his 3s. Webster, though below his 39.2 percent regular season mark, is shooting 33.33 percent, better than any Bulls player. And Ariza is making 48.1 percent of his attempts from 3-point land. And there’s this, from ESPN Stats & Information:
Trevor Ariza was 6-of-9 on catch-and-shoot jumpers Sunday, including 5-of-8 from 3. Ariza has the most catch-and-shoot attempts for the Wizards this postseason, and has made 52.2% overall, 50.0% from 3-point range (rest of Wizards: 42.7% overall, 40.0% from beyond the arc).
The Bulls are cooked, a steak dinner, unless…
- Mike Dunleavy and his bruised thumb have another career day, or three (unlikely).
- Kirk Hinrich finds Paul Pierce’s fountain of youth (37.8% from the field, 21.4% from 3 in the series).
- D.J. Augustin grows a little bit taller, or becomes a better baller (32.3% from the field, 31.8% from 3 in series).
- Jimmy Butler, Chicago’s Black Cowboy, wakes up a straight shooter (38.1% from the field, 25.0% from 3 in the series).
None of those things are going to happen. Tom Thibodeau & Co. are tied for the worst clutch-time plus/minus (-5) in the playoffs and have the third-worst NetRtg (-37.9). Meanwhile, the Wizards are doing just fine. They’re no longer playing for stats but taking pride in doing all of the little things that win basketball games, as directed by the Hustle Board that hangs in the corner of the locker room.
“It’s growth. Listen, in two and a half years, we’ve grown and developed those intangibles you talk about,” Coach Randy Wittman told the media from the podium. “Not just the skill level, but playing the game the right way, doing the right things off the floor as well as on the floor, being professional, as I like to call it. I think now these guys are just playing basketball, they understand that this is a job.”
“Like I said, we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve put ourselves in a position to do something but we have yet to do anything.”
MOAR? Check out my piece about the “Wizards’ way”
on the Mothership, ESPN.com: