Even though it was an ugly contest, the Washington Wizards prevailed tonight against the Chicago Bulls and will move to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time in what seems like decades. Prior to the beginning of the regular season, I don’t think any of us thought the Wizards would be a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference, but after three road wins in Chicago, they’ve emerged on one of the biggest stages the NBA has to offer.
The United Center was quiet right out of the gate and I’ve never seen the Bulls play with such minimal effort throughout the series. Trevor Booker was getting every 50/50 ball and ended up grabbing 7 total rebounds off the bench, 4 coming on the offensive side of the floor. Joakim Noah and Co. have been known for their hustle, but the Wizards seemed to want it more tonight. Simply put, the Bulls played like a defeated team and their inability to score the ball certainly didn’t help their cause. They scored just 69 points.
Washington’s bigs have outplayed Chicago’s frontcourt throughout the series and that was the story of the game tonight. Marcin Gortat scored just 2 points, but he grabbed 13 rebounds, including 4 offensive rebounds. The game got really tight down the stretch, with the Bulls closing in on a three point lead, but Gortat tipped the ball back three consecutive times on the offensive side, eventually forcing the Bulls to intentionally foul. It was all but over from that point on.
John Wall was also very aggressive tonight, as opposed to managing the game as he’s been doing in the four games prior to tonight. Wall scored 24 points and grabbed 7 of his own rebounds, but he got to the free throw line 11 times, which set the tone for the game early on. When Wall is looking to get to the basket, he’s virtually unstoppable. Kirk Hinrich struggled to stay in front and eventually fouled out.
Bradley Beal was also terrific, scoring 17 points to go along side 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Beal has grown before our eyes, but his ability to score and create for others has certainly been noticed in the playoffs. Jimmy Butler is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but he struggled to stay in front of Beal, which I didn’t expect before the series began. He’s taken it right at Butler and the tenacity he’s shown on both sides of the floor is something we didn’t see from him during the regular season.
Wall and Beal were great, but Nene’s performance ultimately led Washington to the Game 5 victory. After getting suspended for Game 4, I had no doubt that Nene would come out looking to assert himself early on. He scored 20 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, including an offensive rebound with the clock winding down late in the fourth quarter. Joakim Noah was well deserving of the Defensive Player of the Year award, but he’s been severely outplayed by Nene. When Noah shuts down Nene’s penetration, he’s risen up right over him, knocking down some crucial mid-range shots to give Washington the advantage. Nene has surprisingly been one of the best players in this year’s NBA Playoffs and if he continues playing at this level, Washington could potentially make even more noise.
The Wizards were undefeated in the playoffs when leading 3-1, and though this moment seemed inevitable, it feels great. Washington has gone through a complete rebuild and we’re finally beginning to see positive results. For players like John Wall, Bradley Beal and Trevor Booker, competing in the playoffs will serve as an opportunity to continue growing and competing at an even greater level in the future.
Second round, and man, it feels good.