Playoffs D.C. Council Game 4: Wizards 98 vs Bulls 89: 14-0 Start Takes Wind Out of Chicago
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. 4: Wizards vs Bulls; contributors: Kyle Weidie and John Converse Townsend from the Verizon Center, and Conor Dirks from his District apartment.
Washington Wizards 98 at Chicago Bulls 89
“[The Wizards] came out with great energy, they got out in the open court, got a few easy ones,” Mike Dunleavy said after the game (this time in the locker room, not the podium). “Next thing you know, we are down 14-0.”
“It’s frustrating,” said Taj Gibson, who scored a career-high 32 points. “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.’”
Did the Bulls’ playoff lives flash before their eyes? Between two of Thibodeau’s timeouts (one at 7-0 and the second at 14-0, Wizards), one Bull surely thought, ‘Man, we can’t come back from down 3-1.’
Then Taj Gibson provided some covering fire, grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring on a put-back seconds after checking into the game with 3:46 left in the quarter. Then he scored six more, nearly doubling Chicago’s scoring output.
Andre Miller slammed the breaks on a fast break opportunity at the end of the period (why rush?), opting instead for the 30-foot lob to Drew Gooden, who had glided past D.J. Augustin on the baseline for the oop.
The Bulls were down 10 after one, 18-28. They’d cut the lead to four with eight minutes to play in the second quarter. Over the next six minutes, six different Wizards players would score—Webster, Booker, Wall, Beal, Gortat, and Ariza.
Ariza, wide-open in the corner, would close the half with a 3-pointer. (Watergate!) Beal had pulled the defense into the lane as he cruised in from the perimeter, then left his feet and hit Ariza between the numbers with a jump-pass… John Wall-approved.
The Wizards were up 55-40 at half.
(The game was over. The Wizards had too many weapons, they were playing team ball, and Gibson, carrying the desperate hopes of an entire city, showed signs he would soon tire.)
Ariza opened the scoring in the third quarter with his sixth 3 from the day (tying a franchise playoff record), this time from above the break—twine. The Wizards and Bulls would continue to scrap with players scoring on both ends of the court, but the animated chess pieces in red weren’t able to find a reprieve in single digits.
On one occasion, Gooden stripped Gibson on the left block, winning a possession which allowed Wall to push the ball up the floor to Beal, on the left wing, who without hesitation relayed it to Gortat (they had a great connection all day) at the elbow to win free throws. Gortat attempted six free throws in the third (made three).
But it was Ariza’s night to shine in the playoff spotlight. Ten third-quarter points from that cool Cali cat kept the Bulls in their pen, down 20 points going into the final period.
Another dozen points from Gibson, despite the home team’s best defensive efforts, made the fourth quarter a bit of rodeo. His 15-footer made it an eight-point game with two minutes to play. Booker was 1-for-5, Gortat was 1-for-9, and Wall went score-less in the quarter as the Wizards were out-scored 27-16. But it didn’t matter: The Wiz still won Game 4 by nine.
—John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend)
Pulled aside by the star-hungry ABC crew after the game, Trevor Ariza gave an account of how he used his playoff experience to come out of D.C. with a 1-1 split: “Just stay poised, stay wit it,” proffered the immaculate Wizard, having just set a career playoff-high with 30 points. It might seem strange to conceptualize the laid-back, discreetly excellent Ariza as “poised,” especially due to his tendency to employ a kind of almost-wrong slo-mo hookahstep with the ball on his way to the basket. But despite a sometimes awkward on-ball game, Ariza is as close to “poised” as a Wizard gets.
Ariza hit more 3-pointers all by his lonesome (six) than the entire Bulls team (four). Four of Ariza’s makes were in the first half, when the Wizards jumped all over a Bulls team that may have felt the false comfort of momentum seeping back into their bloodstream after a Game 3 adrenaline injection.
Put simply, the Wizards desperately needed one of their players to replace the points lost in Nene’s suspension. Poised, and with it, Ariza replaced every last one. He also asphyxiated the breath of life that Mike Dunleavy gave the Bulls in Game 3, smothering the pale antihero throughout the first half until Dunleavy’s confidence, and the Bulls, were sufficiently dead. Things change in the playoffs, but Ariza has been Washington’s most impactful player so far. What did Ariza have to say at the postseason pulpit?
“Tonight was my night to take on the scoring load and throughout the series I’ve been patient and just playing the way that we’ve played all year and tonight was my night.”
It was. Long live Lord Threeza.
—Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
Yes, even in dominating wins, someone’s performance needs to be vetoed. So, apologies to our Uncle Albert, but we will not be signing you into a new law.
With Nene out, Al Harrington played just over five minutes, bringing his series total to about seven. He came up short on a corner 3, committed a foul soon thereafter (two total on the day), got tossed around some in the paint, grabbed a rebound, and committed a turnover.
Can’t accomplish much in so few minutes, and sometimes Harrington’s mere presence helps spread the floor for Washington’s offense. But the dribble drives he’s shown at times this season won’t necessarily work as well against the Bulls, and any ability to be ferocious on the boards is past its prime.
Still, having a guy like Harrington somewhere on Washington’s bench is a luxury—especially since the Uncle played during the regular season, clean and sober after returning from a knee injury. Besides, just look who didn’t play for Chicago: Lou Amundson, Ronnie Brewer, Jimmer Fredette, Mike James, and Nazr Mohammed. Enough said.
—Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
“He understands who needs the ball, where they need it, who has got it going, where to attack and be aggressive himself,” Wittman said post-game. “Then the most important thing for us, against this team, is taking care of the ball. When we have six turnovers for the game, and two in the second half, if we can get a shot every time down the floor, I’ll be really pleased with where we are at in the game. Tonight, he’s done a really good job with the organization of it.”
Wall recorded 10 assists, a playoff career-high, and his first postseason double-double (15 points). But it was his defense that had Wittman fired up.
“It starts at the other end with him. Picking up the pressure bleeds down on our guys. He’s done a nice job.”
Wall was a disruptive force in the pick-and-roll, coming away with two steals, and led the Wizards determined offense like a grizzled vet. The Wizards forced the Bulls into 16 turnovers, which they turned into 29 points.
“You have to be ready for speed and the intensity of the game,” said Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau. “You turn the ball over too much and that was a huge problem. Usually when you look at how teams get 3-point shots, which usually in transition off the second shot, and that hurt us. Ariza had a huge game. And Wall made plays.”
—John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend)
That Session Was … The Best-Case Scenario
Because the Wizards let a blowout get marginally close in the fourth quarter, the psychology of momentum might dictate less than a full appreciation for what the Wizards accomplished against the Bulls on Sunday afternoon. Let it be fully known: winning a playoff game against Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and the Bulls without Nene’s size, presence, and, yes, intelligence (despite an emotional lapse in Game 3) is as impressive an outcome as the Wizards have wrought this year.
It also shouldn’t be lost on anyone, especially those who follow the team with interest and a special kind of insanity throughout all 82 games, that taking a loss, and suspension of a starter, in stride, is very #NotSoWizards. Instead of watching each attempt at ending frustration fail, with issues splitting like flatworms, growing new heads and new tails, Washington took shelter in their strengths: 3-pointers (42.1 percent, which would have been first in the NBA over a whole season), turnover differential (the Bulls turned the ball over 16 times, compared to six by Washington) and defense (Chicago scored a paltry 40 points in the first half).
As Nene has indirectly hypothesized, neither humans nor haters know the future. Inconsistent teams are by definition fickle. A small sample size against a team that doesn’t match up well is hardly an indication of permanent growth. But still, that’s for the future. No one could have asked for more so far.
—Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
If Tom Thibodeau punched back with a game plan that got Mike Dunleavy off in Game 3, then Randy Wittman connected with a right hook with Washington’s defensive lock-down on Sunday.
On the ABC broadcast, Hubie Brown raved about the adjustments against Dunleavy, about the increased sharpness of Wizards defensive rotations (for which you can mostly credit player focus), and about Washington preventing Chicago from getting good looks in the post from perimeter passes. Game recognize game.
But the first-time playoff coach knows what lies ahead.
“Each game is harder and harder. Our young guys, I told them, ‘The hardest game you’ve yet to play. Closing out a series is hard—hard. And you got to understand that. That you’ve got to play harder than you have up to this point.’
“I think that if we take that attitude, we’re going to have an opportunity.”
The Bulls are now on the ropes. Noah exuded confidence in assuming Nene would be suspended but his team could not take advantage. The mental edge is back in Washington’s favor. Chicago is plain worn out.
But they will be desperate on their home turf. As part of his closing remarks, Wittman expressed the need for his team to act the same way.
“I don’t want them taking anything for granted. I want them to stay desperate.”
—Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
Wittman on Wall’s Game Management.
3 out of 5 stars
39 mins | plus-8 | 15 pts | 4-15 FGs | 0-1 3Ps | 7-8 FTs | 3 rebs | 10 asts | 2 stls | 2 blks
The best thing Wall has done consistently over the course of the series is not trying to do too much. There have been very few ill-advised shots. As read above in the Top Aide section, Randy Wittman had some glowing words for Wall’s game-management skills afterward. And when I asked the Game Changer about his continued development process—his responsibility for getting teammates going on offense as well as being the offensive star his team needs—Wall said:
“I always tell these guys that I don’t worry about scoring unless I’m hot. Those guys know a lot of teams are going to focus in on me like they focus in on Brad. I don’t mind being a decoy of just putting pressure on the defense and find those guys and let those guys make the plays. In this series, they kind of force me to make plays and take open shots when I have them.”
The Wizards committed just six turnovers against the Bulls on Sunday, which was the fewest Chicago has forced all season. And while he needed 15 shots to score 15 points, Wall dished out a game-high 10 assists to just two turnovers. —K. Weidie
4 out of 5 stars
40 mins | plus-11 | 18 pts | 7-13 FGs | 2-3 3Ps | 2-2 FTs | 5 rebs | 3 asts | 1 stl | 1 TO
Youth in revolt! Maybe Bradley Beal felt like his presidential image needed some depth; with a fresh mini-hawk on his dome and frosty blue magic in his veins, Beal turned in another very solid offensive performance. At Florida, folks knew Beal could shoot the 3-pointer, even if he hadn’t proven it yet. In the NBA, folks knew Beal could be a complete offensive player (scoring, boarding, passing), even if he hadn’t proven it yet. Beal has never been solipsistic enough to be termed a “pure scorer,” but at times this season he has looked for his shot to the exclusion of some of his other strengths.
It’s part of being young (and no, not the “Nick” kind). In the playoffs, though, we’re getting a more fulsome, comprehensive Bradley Beal, the one that throws himself at an unlikely offensive rebound barely dropping off the back side of the rim.
Beal’s defense is still very much a work in progress, and in the playoffs, better opponents will take advantage of Beal’s inability to work around screens by breaking down the defense with a dive to the hoop or knocking down an open jump shot. For Beal, though, the learning curve is straightening out. —C. Dirks
5 out of 5 stars
38 mins | plus-12 | 30 pts | 10-17 FGs | 6- 10 3Ps | 4-5 FTs | 8 rebs | 2 stls
#ArizaBruh was zonin’, bruh.
Right place, right time, all the time. Nine of his 17 attempts were assisted and 15 of those 17 were uncontested. But he also earned buckets the hard way, wiggling free from double-teams, beating closeouts and getting to the free throw line. He became the first player in franchise history to score 30 points (a playoff career-high for Ariza) and record eight rebounds, two steals and make six 3s (which tied Gilbert Arenas’ playoff record).
“I know that you have to stay ready, stay ready for everything,” Ariza said at the post-game podium. “Unfortunately one of our players was suspended and couldn’t play so we had to pick up the slack. I got a lot of open looks, normally those touches are for Nene early in the game, but we needed somebody to step up and be aggressive and tonight I took that role.” —J.C. Townsend
5 out of 5 stars
28 mins | even-zero | 8 pts | 4-10 FGs | 9 rebs (6 off.) | 3 blks | 6 PFs
Trevor Booker was everywhere in Chicago’s kitchen. In the refrigerator. In the pantry. Putting stuff in the oven. Cooking on the stove top. Even warming up stuff in the microwave. He was chopping, mixing, stirring, and flipping.
Booker has gotten plenty of opportunity this season, so he wasn’t thrown in the playoff fire blindly. But also, he’s played 600-to-1,000 minutes less this season than most Bulls. So while Chicago’s colander seems drained at times, Booker has plenty of fresh ingredients to put the Bulls on their back hooves.
Plus, as broken down in this post, Booker has found nice groove playing next to either Nene or Gortat—something to keep an eye on. —K. Weidie
4 out of 5 stars
36 mins | plus-24 | 17 pts | 6-18 FGs | 5-8 FTs | 6 rebs | 5 asts | 1 blk | 1 TO
Mr. Hammer was crushing it—lefty hooks, mid-range Js, the arsenal—but then the fourth quarter happened (he shot 1-for-9).
“I started very focused,” he said, “Those jumpers definitely get me going, give me confidence, give good start to the team. Unfortunately, later on I missed a bunch of layups, a bunch of easy bunnies.”
“I think it was one of the worst games in my life [with] all the shots I missed. I could easily have probably 30 points today if I made those layups, but I guess that’s what God planned for me today. The most important thing is the team won.”
Gortat isn’t a ball handler, but the offense ran through him. He finished the game with more touches than every player not named John Wall or Joakim Noah, and recorded playoff career-highs in points (17) and assists (5). He also led the team in free throw attempts (8). —J.C. Townsend
2 out of 5 stars
9 mins | plus-1 | 0 pts | 0-2 FGs | 1 rebs | 2 asts | 1 stl
Andre Miller was a ghost, and I promise that’s not a crack on his advanced age. It’s also not the end of the world; remember, Eric Maynor was very visible.—C. Dirks
2.5 out of 5 stars
19 mins | minus-2 | 8 pts | 3-6 FGs | 0-3 3Ps | 2-2 FTs | 3 rebs | 1 stl | 1 TO
That good emotion had a hold on Martell. The subtle limp was unnoticeable on a jazz-fingered steal, break, and wind-beneath-my-wings-esque big sky dunk. With that serotonin burgeoning out of his brain, though, the folly of ecstasy was also on display. Webster forced his dribble on one occasion and whiffed on all three of his 3-point attempts, sullying what would have otherwise been a fine, within-bounds performance for a playoff sixth man. Webster’s role is that of a marksman, and although he shot 50 percent for the game (3-for-6), the makes came on the wrong attempts. A cheap complaint in a big win, perhaps, but let’s aim for something more sustainable than a fever. —C. Dirks
1.5 out of 5 stars
26 mins | minus-3 | 2 pts | 1-4 FGs | 0-1 3Ps | 2 rebs | 1 ast | 1 stl | 1 blk | 5 PFs
In almost 15 first-half minutes, Drew Gooden didn’t get a single rebound when the Wizards most needed him to be a presence. Chicago racked up 15 second-chance points to Washington’s four. In the second half Gooden picked up his play, improved on his position defense, and did much better at keeping Chicago off the offensive boards. He even picked up two rebounds himself to go with a paltry 1-for-4 effort from the field in just under 12 minutes of second-half action. The Bulls only scored five second-chance points after intermission while the Wizards scored 10. There wasn’t much drizzle from Gooden on Sunday, but he provided just enough drops, including five fouls, in the absence of Nene. —K. Weidie
n/a out of 5 stars
1 min | minus-2
Seraphin checked in to give Gortat a breather in the first quarter. He checked out 61 seconds later for Martell Webster in an offense-for-defense switch by Randy Wittman.
That’s it. —J.C. Townsend
Bradley Beal on Defense
(& the changes vs. Mike Dunleavy)