Playoffs D.C. Council Game 5: Wizards 75 vs Bulls 69: #dcRising, #WizKids Advance
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. 5: Wizards at Bulls; contributors: Rashad Mobley, Sean Fagan, and Adam Rubin from not Chicago.
Washington Wizards 75 at Chicago Bulls 69
If someone told me that the winner of a game between the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards had 75 points, and the loser scored just 69 points, the assumption would be that the Wizards came up short. As well as Randy Wittman coached in Games 1 thru 4 of this series, Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls are the team with the Defensive Player of the Year (Joakim Noah), one that allowed the fewest points per game in the regular season (91.8), and are the more likely of the two teams to be comfortable scoring in the mid-70s. But in their series-clinching victory on Tuesday night, the Wizards beat the Bulls at their own game—especially in the fourth quarter.
At the 2:18 mark of the final period, D.J. Augustin hit two free throws after being fouled by Nene to cut the Wizards’ lead to three points, 72-69. Taj Gibson, Chicago’s MVP of the series, left with a severely sprained ankle, and yet the Bulls were still in prime position to win the game.
The Wizards looked to extend their lead on the ensuing possession, but fell short by missing three straight shots. But thanks to three consecutive offensive rebounds (two via tap-outs) by Marcin Gortat the Wizards were able to keep ball throughout that series of misses. In fact, between the 2:18 mark of the quarter until there were 59 seconds left, the Wizards had the ball on offense, while a hobbled Noah and an over-matched Boozer—who was playing his first fourth-quarter minutes of the series, thanks to Gibson’s absence—could only watch.
But the Wizards were unable to score and when the Bulls finally did regain possession of the ball (Bradley Beal turnover), Boozer’s attempt to cut the Wizards’ lead to one was thwarted by Gortat once again—his third block of the game. A few seconds later, Kirk Hinrich was forced to foul Andre Miller, who missed both free throws, but again, the Wizards (this time Nene) were able to secure the offensive rebound and the Bulls had to foul Beal. Sure enough, when Beal missed the back end of two free throws (stop me if you’ve heard this before), Nene commandeered yet another offensive rebound, the Bulls were forced to foul John Wall, and the game was over.
The Bulls had two offensive possessions over the last 2:18 of the game and were held scoreless. The Wizards didn’t fare much better on offense with just three points, but they played their version of keep-away basketball by accruing seven rebounds (five offensive), a block, and a steal during that span, and they defeated the Bulls at their own game via defense and rebounding.
It wasn’t pretty, and the Wizards did their best to give the shorthanded Bulls plenty of chances to hang around, but they ultimately survived and advanced to the second round.
—Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
Nene. All is forgiven.
With the series officially in the books, one player stood apart from the rest in terms of narrative importance and actual game performance. What started with a Wizards-related meme (#NeneRisen) became official truth and fact on Tuesday night, as Nene ‘returned’ from his suspension to once again torture the Bulls (specifically Joakim Noah) and send the Wizards into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Like Odysseus returning home, Nene was not the nicest of people in his return to the court. He rained down jumpers upon Noah from 20 feet, chased after loose ball rebounds, and once again bailed the Wizards out of trouble by soccer-tipping the second of Andre Miller’s missed free throws with only seconds remaining in the game. Strangely, while the first three games of this series had Nene playing with a noticeable grimace, Game 5 was a work of almost complete serenity. Nene would smile after each successful play, almost taunting the Bulls with his poise and composure. Of course, it helps your composure markedly when you are hitting fadeaway jumpers and breaking out parts of your game (loose ball dives, running the point) which were the work of a man 10 years younger. The most foolish thing one can do is let Nene have a bit of extra rest, and Jimmy Butler and his brethren paid the price in minutes per effective Brazilian.
—Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
Let the final butcher’s bill show:
Donald Sterling. David Aldridge reported before the Clippers game that John Wall and Kevin Durant were prepared to sit out Game 5 if Sterling did not receive a lifetime ban. That would have been a shame. Luckily, Adam Silver stepped in and did the right thing.
Randy Wittman continued his tight eight-man rotation and only a couple players had below average games: Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster. Gortat would have held this spot if not for his abuse of Carlos Boozer on the offensive glass late in the fourth quarter. So, the ignominy falls on Webster. Martell was invisible once again. It has gotten to the point where I do not even expect anything out of him. And that’s not a good thing—especially since he is under contract for three more years and eating up precious cap space that could go to Trevor Ariza. But now is not the time to worry about the off-season. In what most certainly will be a higher scoring series in Round 2, Washington will need Martell to regain his contract-year form.
—Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
Motherf**king Trevor Booker. Don’t get me wrong. John Wall and Bradley Beal were solid and took a big step forward in their quest for a title and the recognition of “best backcourt in the NBA.” But with all due respect to the franchise cornerstones, I say again, mother**king Trevor Booker.
In a game that was “do or die” for Chicago, it was Booker—not the Bulls—who played like a man possessed. Trevor entered the game for Nene with 4:28 left in the first quarter and immediately hit a 19-foot baseline jumper. He followed that up less than a minute later with a coast-to-coast driving layup that left Marv Albert and Steve Kerr mystified.
But it was not his scoring (six points, 3-7 FG) that earned Trevor the Top Aide honor. It was his hustle and flow. Booker kept so many possessions alive that Steve Kerr declared him, “My new favorite player in the entire league.”
The box score does not do him justice. Although it shows seven rebounds, two steals, and three blocks in 24 minutes, it does not show how each of those underlying plays sapped the energy out of an already reeling Chicago team. By the time Booker was done with the Bulls front-line, they were so beaten and deflated that they could not even muster the energy to secure even one out of a half-dozen defensive rebounds in a winnable, one-possession game.
—Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
That Session Was … A Spork
As the playoffs drag on, it appears that utility is arising as the defining narrative of the playoffs. Teams that have established identities (Bulls, Thunder) now find themselves either eliminated or reeling when facing teams capable of adapting like the Borg refusing to have a style of play dictated to them. In Game 5, as Rashad noted above, the Bulls finally executed their game plan and reduced the contest to the defensive clank fest which they had been hoping for all series. Instead, it once again wasn’t enough. Like some weird spatially distorted Swiss army knife, the Wizards simply retracted their knife from Game 4 (Ariza/Wall) and brought out the can opener (Nene/Booker) to win Game 5. For each look the Bulls took away from the Wizards (the corner 3, Bradley Beal screen-and-rolls), the Wizards would simply adapt and add wrinkles to fluster an already rattled Chicago defense. Grounded in three dimensions, the Bulls were simply unable to deal with the 4D hybrid nature of the Wizards frontcourt over the series, and a team that is constantly reacting to an opponent’s plan rather than attempting to execute their own is nine times out of ten the team that is going to lose.
So what does one make of these Wizards heading into Round 2? It would probably be bad form to state that the Wizards have “found an extra gear,” but what’s obvious is that the focus and regimen of the playoffs appears to suit this team better than the shallows and eddies of the regular season. With the Clevelands and Sacramentos cleared from their path, the Wizards no longer have a choice to take nights off and kick away games to decrepit Milwaukee teams in the early days of December. Instead, like a teenager before the SATs, the Wizards can focus in one opponent without the distractions of an evolving narrative or the quest to achieve benchmarks (over .500, making the playoffs) that have plagued past incarnations of the team.
Instead, the Wizards have one simple task at hand (win the next game) that suits a team that has always previously stumbled when forced to pause and consider the weight and importance (or lack thereof) of their achievements. Taking on the personality of perhaps their most steady role player, Trevor Ariza, the Wizards seem to have found a conditioned amnesia that allows them to forget mistakes and lock down the focus when necessary. Whether this translates to the next series remains to be seen, but the Wizards have already surpassed the expectations of most pundits and talking heads. Let us hope they never rediscover their regular season identity again.
—Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
One of the more frustrating aspects of the Wizards under Randy Wittman this season was his inability to coax consistent strong efforts out of his team. There would be an amazing performance against teams like the Miami Heat, and then an inexplicable loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at home, which is probably the reason why most experts on ESPN’s NBA page (except for Michael Wallace) picked the Bulls to win this series. Wittman’s ability to reverse that trend, especially with the Wizards’ ability to start strong in all five games (even Game 3′s loss) is one reason why Washington will play into the month of May.
More specifically, Coach Wittman successfully convinced his team that Game 5 should be treated like a Game 7, because the Wizards did not want to give the Bulls a fighting chance to get to a Game 6. Washington shot 53 percent in the opening quarter and held the Bulls to just 26 percent, which forced the Bulls to bring in Augustin and Gibson earlier than usual.
In the fourth quarter, when it appeared as if the Wizards were losing their lead and their momentum, Wittman wasted no time in subbing Bradley Beal back into the game, and he did the same for John Wall when Andre Miller was ineffective at getting his team legitimate scoring opportunities. It was yet another clear indication that Wittman had every intention of doing what it took to win Game 5 and end the series with a win in Chicago. He said before the game that the Wizards had to be the desperate team, and they were.
After the game, Wittman was already looking to apply this lesson to the next series:
“They never lost their focus of being satisfied with a couple of wins. A couple of years ago, we never would’ve won a game like this. Now this team believes in defense, what we do and how we do it. we’ll look back on this, I think, as this group moves forward. We will get a big jump from this.”
—Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
4 out of 5 stars
39 min | plus-8 | 24 pts | 7-19 FGs | 9-11 FTs | 7 rebs | 4 asts | 1 blk | 1 TO
If you squinted your eyes REALLY tightly, you could see the ghost of 2005 Gilbert Arenas floating over John Wall’s shoulder after the game and congratulating him on a job well done. Not for making the second round of a playoffs, but for playing a game that “vintage” Arenas would have been proud to play in his hey-day. For all we celebrated Gilbert’s game-winning theatrics and his penchant for the dramatic, it was his ability to get to the free throw line repeatedly that made him such a headache for opposing teams to check. Wall channeled Arenas, and even with his shot off (7-19 FGs) and his distribution way down (only four assists), Wall continually got to the line and went a tidy 9-for-11, which was slightly more than the margin of victory. It perhaps isn’t the Wall we want to see as the playoffs roll on, but on this evening it was a nice tip of the cap to the last successful Wizards team in modern memory. —S. Fagan
4 out of 5 stars
43 mins | plus-7 | 17 pts | 6-13 FGs | 1-4 3Ps | 4-5 FTs | 5 rebs | 4 asts | 2 stls | 5 TOs
The Wizards were well on their way to losing their lead and their momentum to the Bulls halfway through the third quarter, thanks to some inspired play by Joakim Noah. Then Beal had some inspired play of his own and helped the Wizards go on a 9-2 run to extend the lead back to eight points. During that span, Beal was seemingly everywhere on the court with a layup, a dunk, a steal, and a mid-range jumper. More importantly, he helped give the Wizards a bit of a cushion heading into the fourth quarter—a big deal considering how scarce points seemed to be the entire game. Nene and Wall did the heavy lifting, scoring-wise, but Beal’s third-quarter momentum shift was just as vital. —R. Mobley
3 out of 5 stars
37 mins | plus-8 | 6 pts | 3-8 FGs | 0-1 3Ps | 0-0 FTs | 9 rebs | 2 stls
It was a far cry from his offensive output in Game 4 but Ariza did what he had to do in closing out Chicago in Game 5. This was a very sloppy game that produced only 144 total points. Ariza did his part in harassing D.J. Augustin and Mike Dunleavy into 1-for-10 and 2-for-8 shooting, respectively. That was a huge factor in holding Chicago under 70 points and securing Washington’s first playoff series victory since 2005. —A. Rubin
4.5 out of 5 stars
39 mins | plus-3 | 20 pts | 10-17 FGs | 0-1 FTs | 7 rebs | 4 asts | 1 stl | 1 blk
Comcast SportsNet’s J. Michael tweeted early in the first quarter of Game 5 that Nene was still angry over his Game 4 suspension, and if that was indeed the case, he took his frustrations out on Joakim Noah. Nene hit jump shots over the Defensive Player of the Year with relative ease, and if Noah came out the challenge him, Nene would simply drive by him and look to score or dish the ball. At one point Nene seemed to be taunting Noah with two jab steps only to lift up and shoot yet another jumper in his face. Noah simply shook his head and ran back down the court. Nene scored, assisted, and grabbed two game-clinching rebounds in the closing seconds of the game. The Wizards demonstrated they could win without Nene in Game 4, but they could not have won without him in Game 5. Said Trevor Ariza afterward:
“He was disappointed that he got suspended. He let us down and he came out and played his heart out again. When he’s rolling, you got to give it to him. Again, he’s a big part of what we do.”
2 out of 5 stars
33 mins | plus-9 | 2 pts | 1-5 FGs | 0-0 FTs | 13 rebs | 2 asts | 3 blks | 1 TO
Gortat seemed a little out of sorts throughout the first three and a half quarters. His shots were not falling and he was not able to get into the two-man groove with Nene that he had earlier in the series. Nevertheless, Marcin came up with arguably the biggest series of plays in the game when he tipped out three straight offensive rebounds which allowed Washington to run over one minute off the clock late in the fourth quarter while they were nursing a three-point lead. —A. Rubin
4.5 out of 5 stars
24 min | minus-3 | 6 pts | 3-7 FGs | 7 rebs | 2 stls | 3 blks
It is going to be sad to watch Trevor Booker suit up for the New York Knicks next season. If the rumors prove true and Steve Kerr takes over as the new head coach, it wouldn’t stun me to see the Knickerbockers grossly overpay for the Wizards’ beloved tweener, especially as Kerr excitedly declared that Booker was his “new favorite player in the entire league.” But Kerr just has great taste. When the Wizards needed an energy jolt, Booker downed another bag of Fun Dip and came in and played with a frenzy that would leave Psycho T or the Birdman muttering, “Hey Dude, maybe you want to settle down.”
But settle down Booker didn’t, and it was his energy and hustle the other Wizards appeared to feed off in closing out a Chicago Bulls team desperate to drag the series into the mud. Booker may not be worth the umpteen billion dollars that NY is going to lavish upon him in the offseason, but he may be the vital cog that determines how far the Wizards go this postseason. Generals (John Wall) determine the course of war, but it’s up to the foot soldiers like Booker to provide the stars the opportunity to win it.—S. Fagan
0.5 out of 5 stars
16 mins | minus-3 | 0 pts | 0-2 FGs | 0-1 3Ps | 1 reb | 1 stl | 2 blks
Martell Webster had an impressive block on Joakim Noah in the second quarter and another big block against Jimmy Butler midway through the fourth. He also won a key jump ball against Taj Gibson in the fourth quarter to give the Wizards the possession. But on a night when Washington scored just 75 points, Webster certainly could have helped the cause with an open 3-pointer or two. Let’s hope the Wizards don’t play Atlanta in the second round so that no one at TAI has to write about longing for Cartier Martin over Webster. —R. Mobley
N/A out of 5 stars
9 min | minus-1 | 0 pts | 0-3 FGs | 0-2 FTs | 0 asts | 0 hot dogs
Time to call Nathan’s and have them ship some emergency hot dogs to the Professor. His two missed free throws that almost lost the game for the Wizards are sure sign of malnutrition or possible hypoglycemia. —S. Fagan
3 out of 5 stars
1 min | plus-2 | 0 pts | 0-0 FGs | 0-0 FTs | 0 rebs | 0 asts | 0 blk | 1 TO
I have a friend who swears that every time Wittman inserts Temple for a final defensive play after he has been on the bench the entire game, something bad happens. That premonition almost came to fruition when Temple entered the game with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Washington leading by three. Chicago ran a quick-hitting inbounds play for Jimmy Butler at the rim. Temple jumped to contest the shot and could have been called for a foul but he held back and Butler missed the layup. Beal grabbed the rebound … three free throws and two offensive rebounds later, Washington was celebrating. —A. Rubin
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