It isn’t over. The fat lady hasn’t sung quite yet.
Now, if the Bulls lose Game 3 in D.C., then it’s time to press the “panic” button. No NBA playoff team has ever overcome a 0-3 deficit. The Bulls are great, but they’re not the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who stunned the mighty New York Yankees.
It’s somewhat surprising that the Bulls are in this position. Heading into the series, most people predicted them to win, mostly due to their experience.
Neither member of the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt—John Wall and Bradley Beal—had appeared in a playoff game until now. Plus, this is also Randy Wittman’s postseason debut as a head coach.
Meanwhile, Bulls coach Tim Thibodeau and his troops know all about playoff basketball. With MVP Derrick Rose leading the way, they managed to reach the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, falling to the Miami Heat.
Boy, could Chicago use D-Rose’s scoring right now. It desperately needs someone who can create their own shot and completely take over a game.
Anyway, the Bulls have a few advantages they must exploit in order to avoid an early exit.
No advantage is bigger for Chicago than defense. It allowed only 91.8 points per game during the regular season, which was the best mark in the league.
That’s the main reason a team that finished last in scoring was able to win nearly 50 games and stay relevant without Rose and Luol Deng.
The Bulls' always-suffocating "D" is anchored by Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, the first Bull to win the award since Michael Jordan (1988). Noah and super-sub Taj Gibson shut down the interior while youngster Jimmy Butler does his thing on the perimeter.
The Bulls have done a decent job defending Wall, as he has hit only 34.5 percent of his field-goal attempts during the series.
To advance past the first round, Chicago must contain both Wall and Beal, who dropped 26 points in Game 2.
However, Nene is the Wizards player that definitely needs to be contained. The Brazilian center has been incredible, averaging 20.5 points and shooting a red-hot 63 percent from the field. He put up 24 big ones in Game 1, knocking down jumpers and bullying his way into the paint.
Nene was impressive in Game 2 as well, scoring 17. He had six during overtime.
SB Nation's Mike Prada wrote about Nene vs. Chicago's defense:
We can talk until we're blue in the face about not settling for the mid-range jumpers Chicago wants you to take, and there's a lot of truth to that. That said ... this is the Bulls' defense we're talking about. Sometimes, those are the only shots you get. The Wizards are going to need to make a decent clip of their mid-range jumpers to win this series. Who is the Wizards' best mid-range shooter? Surprisingly, it's Nene. After a poor shooting season last year, Nene bounced back by hitting nearly 47 percent of his shots from 16-24 feet, an outstanding number. In fact, only 10 players that took more than 100 shots from that spot in the entire league were better.
Come on, Noah. You have to stop this guy!
MVP Play From Joakim Noah
Having a special player like Noah is clearly an advantage. Who would've guessed a player who began his career as an energetic role player would emerge as an MVP candidate? There's no doubt that he truly saved the season for the Bulls.
In a way, he's sort of like Magic Johnson. Okay, comparing him to arguably the greatest player ever not named Jordan is a little too much. Like Magic, however, he possesses the ability to make his teammates better.
Chicago's offense goes through Noah, as he often makes pinpoint passes from the high post, finding cutting teammates.
Noah is basically "Mr. Everything." He can dish the rock, play "D," rebound and serves as the team's emotional leader. Although he averaged only 12.6 points during the regular season, he's fully capable of dropping 20.
For the Bulls to come back and pick up four wins vs. Washington, Noah has to play out of his mind. He must play like an MVP in each game for the rest of the series.
During last year's first round vs. the Brooklyn Nets, Noah put the Bulls on his back with a 24-point, 14-rebound, six-block effort in Game 7. As a result, Chicago moved on to the semifinals.
Can he play like Superman and carry his crew past Washington? Hopefully, he delivers. The entire Windy City is counting on him.
All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of April 23, 2014.