No Nene? No problem.
The Washington Wizards have played without Nene during the regular season, and if any team knows how to move on without one of their key players, it’s the Wizards. Trevor Booker got the start, and though he left much to be desired on the defensive side of the floor, he matched Chicago’s intensity right from the start and the Wizards jumped on the Bulls out of the gate.
Led by their star studded backcourt, Washington gained a 14-0 advantage in just minutes. John Wall found his shooters early, including Bradley Beal who knocked down 2 of his 3 three point attempts. Trevor Ariza also benefited from Wall’s passing early on, hitting multiple threes during the 14-0 run which helped separate Washington from Chicago from the start. Wall had a tough time hitting shots, making just 4 of his 15 attempts, but he did finish the game with 10 assists. Wall’s effort defensively was also big, as it helped create multiple easy transition baskets. Wall baited the Bulls into a few tough pick-and-roll passes, which led to turnovers, helping Washington set the tempo offensively. He was spectacular defensively.
The Bulls have done a great job of taking away the three point shot from Washington in the first three games, but that seemed to fall apart today.
Trevor Ariza was absolutely spectacular on both sides of the floor. He scored a playoff career-high 30 points, including 6-10 made three point shots. His 8 rebounds were also huge, especially with Nene out. Mike Dunleavy scored 35 points in Game 3, but he wouldn’t have a repeat performance with Ariza taking the defensive assignment. Dunleavy scored just 8 points today.
Washington’s backcourt combined for 33 points, but Marcin Gortat and Trevor Booker also had some key baskets down the stretch. Gortat struggled on the boards, grabbing just 6 rebounds, but he did score 17 points. Taj Gibson scored 32 points on 13-16 shooting in 32 minutes off the bench. Washington’s reserve big men couldn’t keep up with Gibson, which was concerning, but they still managed to get the win. Drew Gooden and Al Harrington are able to score and defend with their veteran savvy, but that doesn’t work against players with Gibson’s athleticism. Washington certainly missed Nene’s defense on Gibson today.
I was honestly worried about today’s game, given Nene’s absence, but Washington continued to battle through the adversity. Chicago’s “heart and hustle” has been well documented, but the Wizards play just as hard as Chicago. Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah were playing physical basketball all game long, but the Wizards didn’t let up, and eventually went on to take a 3-1 series lead. The Bulls are obviously a very good defensive team, but their inability to score the ball at a consistent rate might be the tale of the series. Washington has been the better overall team and that continued today, with or without Nene in the lineup.
The Wizards will head back to Chicago on Tuesday with a chance to close out the series.