Playoffs D.C. Council Game 1: Wizards 102 at Bulls 93: Wiz Jab First, Steal Home Bullring Advantage
Truth About It.net’s D.C. Council: setting the scene, recapping key points, providing the analysis, evaluating players, and catching anything that you may have missed from the Washington Wizards. NBA Playoffs 2014, Round, 1 Game No. 1: Wizards at Bulls; contributors: Rashad Mobley, Sean Fagan and John Converse Townsend from the East Coast, not the Midwest.
Washington Wizards 102 at Chicago Bulls 93
The Wizards, led by postseason first-timer Randy Wittman, won Game 1. In many ways it was an unlikely victory in a hostile environment for Wittman & Co., even if they were tied for the best regular season road record in the East.
After a very promising start from the 5-seed visitors, the Bulls, spurred by a raucous crowd, found their stride. The Wizards were out-scored in both second-chance and paint points by a physical (if less skilled) Bulls offense, and as a result were forced to play from behind (against a top-ranked Bulls defense) for nearly 20 minutes between the second and fourth quarters—not an enviable position.
The Wizards were down as many as 13 points early in the third quarter, but kept calm and carried on, as if Wittman had channeled the British Ministry of Information circa 1940 during his halftime speech: “Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory.”
With four minutes left to play, the score was tied at 88. The Bulls would then score just five points in 240 seconds. The Wizards? Twelve, including eight from the free throw line (they were a perfect 12-for-12 in the fourth quarter).
… Free throws! The Bulls, over 82 games in the regular season, surrendered an average of 20.3 free throws per game. The Wizards (averaging 20.9 attempts) on this night drew foul after foul, especially in the first half where they lived in the bonus, en route to 35 attempts (making 26).
Nene, who was available for the Wizards’ two regular season wins over Chicago (but not for the one loss), was again the biggest, widest X-factor. He led all players with 24 points, sinking seven of his 13 midrange attempts and making all four of his attempts in the paint.
Trevor Ariza was as patient as a venus flytrap. He scored 18 (more than any single Bulls player) on just eight attempts from the field. Gortat had 15 points on 10 attempts (plus 13 boards).
So while John Wall and Bradley Beal shot a combined 7-for-25, the Wizards were able to make nearly 50 percent (48.6%) of their attempts and grab the first round by the horns: Game 1 winners have advanced in 77 percent of best-of-seven series in NBA history.
—John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend)
Nene. Before it was announced that he would be in the starting lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs, Nene came off the bench for four of the Wizards’ last five games and played no more than 24 minutes in any of those games—a limit Nene insisted upon keeping. Given that he really hadn’t played at full strength for a sustained period of time since a Feb. 22 game against the New Orleans Pelicans, there were legitimate reasons for Wizards coaches, players, and fans to be a bit concerned about the type of sustaining performance he had to offer. Twenty-seven seconds into the game, Nene took those fears (along with Carlos Boozer) and did this:
From that point on, Nene was Washington’s version of “The Answer.” When Beal and Wall got off to a slow first quarter (honestly, they were off the entire game), it was Nene who was there with eight points in the period. When Wall came off the pick-and-roll and was met by two Chicago defenders, it was Nene who bailed him out. When Trevor Booker could not keep Taj Gibson out of the paint and off the boards, it was Nene who stepped in and effectively smothered Gibson, knocked him down, and left him looking to the referees for help. Nene even pulled off a fast break layup off a steal for good measure.
If the next game was on Monday night, Nene’s 35 minutes of play would be cause for concern. But with the next game not until Tuesday at 9:30 p.m., there are no such worries. As Nene said just a few days ago, “Haters know the past, I know the present, but the future, only God knows.”
—Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
Trevor Booker. Nene reclaimed his starting spot, which meant the reemergence of Trevor Booker would have continue in a reserve role. Unfortunately, no such thing took place.
Less than a minute after checking into the game, Booker had to stop to tie his shoes while the rest of his teammates ran down the court. He then seemed to be a step slow for the remainder of the night. Booker could not keep Taj Gibson out of the paint on the defensive end, and on offense he was not a legitimate threat to score. As TNT’s Kenny Smith observed, the Chicago Bulls second unit is just as effective as their starters. Trevor Booker (now as a member of the Wizards bench mob) will have to contribute more than three points and porous defense for 19 minutes. First-game jitters or not, it will be interesting to see if Randy Wittman counters with more minutes for Drew Gooden (2:32 on Sunday) or Al Harrington (1:43) instead of Booker during Game 2 on Tuesday.
—Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
The Polish Machine. After a first half as loud as an idling Prius (three points, five rebounds, and an accepted invite to Carlos Boozer’s soirée), Marcin Gortat let loose a coal-powered roar to finish the game. He went 5-for-6 from the field in the second half (including two third-quarter dunks) for 12 points and added eight rebounds, keeping important playoff possessions alive with tap-outs that would make Jan Vesely (and Eva) proud.
Gortat double-doubled, as he often does (he led the team with 37 this season), and finished with 15 points, a game-high 13 rebounds, and the top aide title in a huge win.
—John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend)
That Session Was … Straight Thievery.
If someone were to tell you prior to Sunday night’s tip off that the Wizards would manage to pull out a playoff victory on the road with the duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal going a combined 7-for-25 from the field, well … you would consider escorting that person to the nearest mental institution (or take them to a Catholic priest for an exorcism). But that is just what the Wizards achieved through the miraculous resurrection of Nene and some solid play (offensively) from Marcin Gortat, and now Chicago has to be reeling heading into what may amount for them as a must-win game. (OK, so they’re all must-win games in the playoffs, but heading to D.C. in an 0-2 hole could be a Polish Hammer’d nail in the coffin.)
To allow both Wall and Beal a game to shake off the playoff jitters but escape with a win was the worst possible outcome for a Bulls team that was going to win this series through intimidation and defense. Because the simple truth of the matter is that while Coach Tom Thibodeau can say that his defense “wasn’t good enough,” it’s the glaring holes in his offense (and the radiant light of Nene) that might prove to be his team’s undoing.
For further consideration: The Wizards won this game without any notable contribution from their bench with the exception of a clinic put on by Professor Andre Miller in the fourth quarter. Trevor Booker wilted under the bright lights and got shoved around. Martell Webster once again took his one-man act, “The Disappearing Man,” onto the court for a total of 17 minutes. Drew Gooden and Al Harrington looked their age in very limited minutes. Yet, the Wizards eked out just enough offense and tightened up on defense to the point where all those things didn’t matter. The Bulls wanted this series to be a rock fight. They wanted to slow it down and beat up the Wizards on the glass. Well, they achieved those aims tonight and still lost. So what does Thibodeau do between now and Tuesday to right the ship?
—Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
Sometimes checkers does defeat chess.
When the Bulls stormed out after halftime to go on a 10-3 run, it looked like Coach Tom Thibodeau had made those “critical half time adjustments” that talking heads love to discuss, and that Randy Wittman may have spent his 20 minutes perusing the fruit plate. Instead, Wittman made two of the guttier decisions of the season which helped his team achieve victory. The first was that he was going to ride or die with Nene, even if it means that all of the Brazilian’s appendages may fall off on the bench by Game 5. Wittman left Nene out there for 35 minutes (and six personal fouls), and while the gauge may have read “empty” for the last five minutes, Wittman was not about to take his most useful, playoff-tested veteran out of the game. The second and more controversial decision that Wittman made was to take John Wall out of the game in the third quarter and leave him stapled to the bench until fewer than five minutes remained in the fourth quarter in favor of the the slow jam stylings of Prof. Andre Miller. The move worked out, as Miller worked D.J. Augustin over with his rec league game of post moves and spot-up jumpers. However, stars win playoff series, and one has to blanch at the thought of Wittman leaving his best player on the bench in favor of riding the ever popular “hot hand.”
Wittman called the performance of his team a “good, gritty win” but it was also a validation of his coaching methods throughout the season. For all that the Wizards offense can still resemble a group of five-year-olds chasing a soccer ball, the positives are often overlooked as there is a belief that Wittman is never getting the most out of the talent on hand. It is easy to forget that the Wizards have a top 10 defense and have become steadily better in that department since Wittman took over. It’s also easy to forget how Wittman has maxed out the talent of his big men, putting both Nene and Gortat in positions to thrive while hiding their weaknesses enough to make them one of the more effective frontcourts in the league. On Easter Sunday evening, checkers beat chess and the series stands at 1-0, Wizards. Many can honestly say they never expected to see Randy Wittman at the postgame podium in the playoffs, but now no one can say he didn’t deserve it.
—Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
2 out of 5 stars
35 min | plus-11 | 16 pts | 4-14 FGs | 8-10 FTs | 6 reb | 6 asts | 2 stls | 3 TOs
John Wall would like his coming-out party back, please. Unfairly, the lasting memory of Wall from this game will be his look of forlorn resignation as his sat on the bench while Randy Wittman decided to roll with Andre Miller for a majority of the fourth quarter, until Miller became ineffective or expired. Stars are supposed to be starlike, and Wall’s performance from the field (4-14 FGs) leaves something to be desired. But, he also noticeably ratcheted up his defense on D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich as the game progressed and was a tidy 8-for-10 at the free throw line. Wall will get ‘his’ before the series ends and perhaps this was the best way for him to make his debut on the big stage. Let the elder statesmen have their turn and take a game to shake off the jitters. Two days is an eternity for John Wall to kick himself about this performance and get ready for the second game of the series. —S. Fagan
2 out of 5 stars
42 mins| plus-11 | 13 pts | 3-11 FGs | 7-7 FTs | 7 asts | 2 rebs | 1 blk | 0 TOs
We’ll start with the positive. Beal was perfect from the free throw line, and despite the disappearance of his jumpshot, he found ways to get his teammates involved via his seven assists. He also had a key block of D.J. Augustin with 5:11 left in the game. But it is Beal’s job to hit the outside shots in order to open up the lane for Nene, Gortat and Wall, not play the facilitator and focus on the intangibles. Nene and Gortat (17-for-27) were able to thrive in the post in spite of Beal’s off-night, but chances are that Coach Thibodeau and the Bulls will adjust and slow down Nene, which means Beal cannot have another off night. —R. Mobley
4 out of 5 stars
38 mins | plus-10 | 18 pts | 5-8 FGs | 3-5 3Ps | 5-6 FTs | 7 rebs | 3 asts | 1 blk | 1 TO
Against Chicago in Game 1, contract-year Trevor Ariza was a perfect opportunist. His three contested field goal attempts were the fewest of any starter. His 80 percent effort (4-for-5) on uncontested field goals led all players.
Sometimes it’s about output, other times it’s about timing, and in many cases it’s about attitude. In the Windy City, Ariza delivered on all three. —J.C. Townsend
ALL THE STARS FOREVER
35 min | plus- 7 | 24 pts | 11-17 FGs | 2-5 FTs | 8 rebs | 3 asts | 2 stls | 2 TOs | 1 Easter Miracle
We all got jokes. Nene making his first playoff appearance for the Washington Wizards on Easter Sunday was too good of a gag to pass up, and the last few days have turned the Wizards Twitterverse into an industrial machine, pumping out #NeneHasRisen jokes that blurred the pixel/reality line to the point where no one knew what to actually expect from the enigmatic Brazilian. Except in this case, prophecy became fact. For all the gentile jokes that are made at the expense of Nene’s beatific faith that the Big Man Shall Provide, perhaps we all need to sip at the chalice full of God juice more often, because Nene played the Bulls like the Devil himself was chasing him down. He opened that game with a thunderous dunk and then proceeded to calmly drill midrange jumper after midrange jumper over a completely out-matched Joakim Noah. Nene’s play was such that it rendered the Bull’s 1st Team All-NBA center next to useless, as every time he cheated off Nene to help defend he would be punished for his sins with another made 17-footer. And every time Noah tried to muscle up Nene, the Brazilian wrecking ball would just shove him out of the way en route to the basket. As Steve Kerr noted, “Nene is one of the few big men in the league capable of outmuscling Noah on the block.” In that simple sentence may lie the key to the series.
One further note: It is rare heroes of the D.C. sports scene to live up to their billing once the playoffs roll around. Gilbert Arenas never quite got over LeBron James whispering in his ear at the free throw line. Alex Ovechkin loses his scoring when April makes its presence known. Nene not only lived up to the billing and silliness that was poured upon him before this game, but he actually exceeded all expectations. Win or lose, D.C. will now always have the Easter Game. —S. Fagan
3 out of 5 stars
37 mins| plus-10 | 15 pts | 6-10 FGs | 3-4 FTs | 13 rebs | 1 blk | 3 TOs
Gortat this season famously said that “50 percent of Nene” is better than most NBA players. Tonight, that statement was true for the big Pole.
Most Wizards fans would have preferred to see a complete game out of Gortat, but one half was enough in Chicago. His 12 second-half points were tied for a game-high in that time, as were his eight rebounds, and he finished with a better line than either Carlos Boozer (who torched him early: 11 points, 9 rebounds) or Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds). More importantly, Gortat finished with a better plus/minus (+10). —J.C. Townsend
3 out of 5 stars
14 mins| plus-2 | 10 pts | 5-7 FGs | 0-0 FTs | 0 asts | 1 TOs
When discussing the Bulls-Wizards series on their pre-playoff podcast, Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe joked that D.J. Augustin wanted no parts of Andre “The Professor” Miller in the post. Coach Thibodeau must have heard this and made plans accordingly. When Miller checked into the game with 31 seconds left in the first quarter, he tried to post-up Augustin, and Taj Gibson was there to foil his plans. For three quarters, Miller seemed to be on his heels, as he struggled both score and find his teammates for easy baskets.
With the start of the fourth quarter, the lightbulb in Miller’s head seemed to go off, and he realized he needed to pepper in an outside shot instead of solely relying on his ample post game. Miller scored eight points in the first seven and a half minutes of the fourth quarter on layups and jump shots, and helped cut Chicago’s lead from five to one point. He was playing so well that TNT’s Steve Kerr and Marv Albert suggested Coach Wittman should leave Wall on the bench and ride Miller’s hot hand, which Wittman did. Miller ultimately got tired and forced Wittman to call a timeout (at the 4:33 mark of the fourth), but that doesn’t change the fact that the Professor adjusted on the fly tonight and made everyone forget that he went without an assist. —R. Mobley
1 out of 5 stars
19 mins | plus-1 | 3 pts | 1-3 FGs | 1-2 FTs | 6 rebs | 1 ast | 1 stl | 3 PFs
Trevor Booker was active on the defensive boards with six in 19 minutes, but the man he was attempting to guard, Taj Gibson, played a more complete game at his expense with 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Booker’s lack of offense is disappointing—not unexpected given his struggles the majority of the season—but his inability to defend Gibson is part of the reason why the Wizards were outscored 32-24 in the second quarter (when Gibson scored eight points). Nene bailed Booker out on this victorious night, but just as Beal will have to eventually carry his weight for the Wizards to win this series, Booker will have to do his job to neutralize Gibson’s toughness off Chicago’s bench. —R. Mobley
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