Wizards End the Year With a Bang Versus the Bulls | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards End the Year With a Bang Versus the Bulls

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Updated: December 31, 2017

[Bradley Beal thanks John Wall after he hits the game-sealing free throws. Photo – @washwizards]

The narrative all season has been that the Wizards play well against winning teams (11-6) and poorly against losing teams (9-10). The Chicago Bulls presented an interesting test for that theorem.

At 13-22, Chicago had the ninth worst record in the league entering the game against Washington. However, the Bulls were also tied for the best record in the NBA over their last 12 games (10-2).

So, which is it? Are the Bulls good or bad? Put Scott Brooks in the former category. Before the game, he talked about Chicago’s improved offense:

“You can tell the team is playing at a high level. They are moving the ball.  You don’t win 10 out of 12 games if you don’t have good players – they do. They are passing the ball as well as anybody in the month of December and they are making threes.  They are definitely much better than their record. So hopefully we can come out and play well tonight but we’re going to have to play well to beat them.”

Unfortunately, the Wizards players did not pay as close attention as Brooks did to the Bulls’ recent play. The Wizards started the game with the same energy level they’ve been reserving for sub. 500 opponents and watched as Chicago built an early 18-11 lead.

Washington gave up easy offensive rebounds, committed dumb shooting fouls, took quick shots and generally played with the lack of interest that has been the hallmark of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team.

The second unit did not fare much better. Mike Scott kept them afloat with 10 points in four minutes, but the defense could not stop the Bulls. When Scott Brooks called a timeout with 10:16 remaining in the second quarter and the Bulls up by 11, the fans were fed up.

Brooks put the entire starting lineup back in the game and they slowly woke up from their New Year’s Eve slumber. Wall started pushing the pace and found multiple teammates for uncontested layups and jumpers. Washington closed the half with a 15-7 run in the final four and a half minutes to cut the halftime deficit to 63-59.

If the first half was their Mr. Hyde persona, then the start of the third quarter was the Wizards’ Dr. Jekyll. Washington started the second half with an intensity that had been absent at the opening tip and they quickly forced the first tie score of the game, 66-66, with 8:44 remaining and John Wall was the catalyst. He showed playoff level intensity on defense by harassing Kris Dunn, closing out on Markkanen on the perimeter and even attempting to block Robin Lopez’s wide open dunk attempt (he failed, but the effort was appreciated). Wall ended the game with four blocks.

Unfortunately, the Wizards could not completely exorcise their demons. The lazy closeouts returned and the Bulls hit consecutive three-pointers to build a 83-74 lead.

The remainder of the game played out like an episode of Mr.Robot with the Wizards struggling between their split personalities. Beal and Wall hit back-to-to-back three pointers and Kelly Oubre added one more a minute later to cut the deficit to two, 85-83, late in third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter “Bad Oubre” reared his ugly head in a sequence that planted Kelly on the bench. Oubre grabbed a defensive rebound and pushed the ball up court like a young Magic Johnson. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities ended. Oubre tried a highly ill-advised two-handed bounce pass between three Bulls defenders that was predictably intercepted.

To compound the problem, Oubre lost track of his man on the ensuing possession and gave up an uncontested layup. Brooks was furious and called a timeout. He had no choice but to take Oubre out after his ridiculous pass, but with Tomas Satoransky and Otto Porter already on the court, the replacement options were limited. Brooks opted to put in Wall and slide Satoransky over to small forward. The move paid immediate dividends.

Beal drove for a dunk, Satoransky hit a corner three-pointer and Mike Scott hit a mid-range baseline jumper to give Washington a  94-93 lead with 8:223 remaining.

The teams went back and forth the rest of the fourth quarter with the largest lead for either team being three points. We’ll fast forward to the final minute when things got real interesting. Kris Dunn hit a pull up jumper with 54 seconds remaining to give Chicago an 110-107 lead. After a Wizards timeout, Beal scored on a nice drive to cut the lead to one.

Justin Holiday missed a three-pointer on the other end and Wall grabbed the defensive rebound with a little over 30 seconds remaining. Wall surveyed the court and saw some daylight with only Holiday between him and the basket. Wall effortlessly drove past him and absorbed some contact for a lefty lay-in and the foul to give the Wizards a two point lead.

The Bulls had one last gasp and they put the ball in the hands of their breakout second year point guard Kris Dunn. Dunn had been killing the Wizards on step-back jumpers all night and he tried his luck again from 11 feet. The shot missed,Beal grabbed the rebound and held the ball until Markkanen committed the intentional foul.

Beal, who scored 39 points on 16-for-29 shooting, stepped to the free line for his first attempts of the game.

I think you know where this is headed…

Beal hit the front rim on his first attempt and the ball could not quite find the basket. Beal calmly stepped back to the line and….missed again. However, his teammates bailed him out.

Mike Scott snuck inside Markkanen’s box out and back-tapped the missed free throw. There was a bit of a scrum for the ball and Oubre, who was benched since the 10:06 mark in the fourth quarter until entering the game for Marcin Gortat after Wall’s and-1, made up for his earlier mistakes by reaching over his man and directing the ball toward mid-court where Wall corralled it and was fouled with nine seconds remaining. Wall sunk both free throws to seal the game, 114-100.

For one night at least, Dr. Jekyll won the battle. After the game, Brooks was happy with his players’ effort and resiliency:

“We played hard. I know much has been said, and it should be said: we were 9-10 going into this game. This team does have a record that they’re not happy with, but they’re much different now… We knew going into this game that this team was really good. They got shooters that can shoot with a split second [and] no space, they can just flat out play. But I give our guys a lot of credit, we stuck with it, we kept battling. A couple of times it didn’t look good, but we kept fighting and coming back with good defensive pressure. We made big plays and we made plays for each other.”

The Wizards ended 2017 on a high note. It remains to be seen which personality will emerge in 2018.

[Kelly Oubre dressed as an Othello board after the win over the Bulls.]

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.