So much for home-court advantage.
The Washington Wizards walked into Chicago and stole Game 1 from the Chicago Bulls, 102-93. Nene Hilario led the way with 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block, while Trevor Ariza added 18 points and seven rebounds behind three three-pointers.
The Bulls held a double-digit lead in the third quarter, but Washington's impressive fourth quarter gave the Wizards the win. Chicago just couldn't find the basket in half-court sets when the moment called for it.
Who wins the series?
Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin paced the scoring for the Bulls with 16 points each.
After a season that saw yet another Derrick Rose injury and Luol Deng being traded to Cleveland, Bulls fans were ready to forget all the lows and rock the United Center during their postseason opener.
Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago and Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times gave fans a peek into the stadium before tip-off:
The fans at the UC are rocking early. Joakim Noah gets a huge ovation.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 20, 2014
The fans were expectedly intense because of the nature of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 series. These teams are very closely matched on paper, so every game and the chance to defend home-court advantage is critical. Before the game started, most of the Turner broadcasters leaned toward the Wizards advancing, as Chicago Sports Guy noted:
Barkley, Kenny and Shaq all like the Wizards in this series. Good, Bulls like being the underdog anyways— Chicago Sports Guy (@ChicagoGuy23) April 20, 2014
Speaking of broadcasters, Steve Kerr and Marv Albert honored Craig Sager with their choice of attire, as Bleacher Report pointed out:
The commentators may have favored Washington before the contest started, but John Wall told reporters his squad was a dangerous underdog:
I think a lot of people are writing us off, not saying we really have a chance. We know what's ahead of us. We've got a couple of young guys who haven't played in the playoffs, but we have great veterans -- one that has won a championship (Trevor Ariza), other guys that have been in the playoffs for a while -- and they're giving us advice.
It was a back-and-forth affair in the early going, with the Wizards taking a 24-22 lead after the first quarter. The Bulls finished 23-0 this year when leading after the first quarter, per the TV broadcasters, so Washington had the game right where it needed to be early.
The referees began the second quarter with a parade of whistles, which frustrated both the Bulls and their fans. Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago pointed out the uneven distribution of foul calls through the quarter's first few minutes, although Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald gave some respite for Chicago supporters:
Twelve fouls for the Bulls with 9:32 left in the second. Just five for Washington.— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) April 20, 2014
Fortunately for Bulls, Wizards are just 7 for 14 at foul line.— Mike McGraw (@McGrawDHBulls) April 20, 2014
The length and athleticism of the Wizards gave the Bulls some problems, but Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah were doing their best to keep the home team in the contest throughout the second quarter, as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune and the team's official Twitter page noted:
If he keeps playing like this, Jimmy Butler might not come out the entire postseason.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 20, 2014
"MVP, MVP, MVP" love from the crowd for Noah as he shoots free throws. #WASvsCHI— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 20, 2014
While Noah is a tremendous defender (and could win Defensive Player of the Year), Nene was having his way with the former Florida Gator early, as Michael Lee of The Washington Post and the NBA acknowledged on Twitter:
For everyone out there in America who hasn't paid any attention to the #wizards until today, Nene is pretty good— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) April 20, 2014
Nene was impressive, but a flurry of points from D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson allowed the Bulls to take a 54-48 lead into intermission:
The Bulls may be known for their defense, but it was their offense that carried the way in the first 24 minutes:
Aside from Dunleavy, the rest of the Bulls shoot 50 percent (19-38) in the first half.— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) April 21, 2014
Sure, just like we all predicted: Bulls on pace for 108 points.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 21, 2014
Chicago came out of the locker room on a 10-3 run, thanks to some sharp shooting from Mike Dunleavy:
Dunleavy hits his first two shots after missing all five in the first half. Bulls need his offense.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 21, 2014
Love that play call. Dunleavy 0-for-5 in first half. Thibodeau sets up play on opening possession of second for open 3-pointer.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 21, 2014
However, the Wizards responded with a spurt of their own, and Hinrich even picked up a technical foul out of frustration. The Washington Wizards' official Twitter page kept up with the third-quarter action:
Washington gradually battled back throughout the third quarter and closed the gap to 75-72 at the end of three. It set the stage for a nerve-wracking fourth quarter, as SB Nation NBA pointed out:
We're in for a rousing finish in Chicago. Wizards trim a 13-point deficit to just 3 heading into the 4th. Buckle up.— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) April 21, 2014
The fourth quarter started out slow, but Noah hit Butler with an impressive alley-oop pass to wake the crowd up a bit. It highlighted just how great of a passer the Chicago big man has been throughout the season, as the Waddle and Silvy show of ESPN 1000 pointed out:
Of all the Noah passes this year...that one to Butler was as good as any. #Bulls— Silvy (@WaddleandSilvy) April 21, 2014
Interestingly, Washington hung with the Bulls and actually made a run during the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter without the help of their superstar.
John Wall is still on the bench for the #Wizards, who are down 1 with 7:25 to go. Gotta think he comes back soon.— Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) April 21, 2014
Andre Miller was huge during that stretch, as Rob Dauster of NBC Sports noted:
Andre Miller will be killing dudes at the park until he's 60. He'll be the real life version of Uncle Drew. #youngblood— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) April 21, 2014
Once Wall came in, the Wizards took off. Chicago, which is known for its defense but struggles to score, couldn't get back into a rhythm on the offensive end. As good as the defense may be, the Bulls could run into serious trouble in these playoffs without a go-to scorer:
Bulls have given up a 13 point 2nd half lead. They trail 92-88 with 2:39 left in 4th. Can't get shots to fall late.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) April 21, 2014
As the final moments ticked away, Finley pointed out that Marcin Gortat was huge for the Wizards on both ends of the floor and on the glass:
The Polish Hammer is Man of the Match tonight — 15 and 13, and helped Noah/Boozer shot 9-for-16— Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) April 21, 2014
ESPN Stats & Info let fans know just how long it has been since the Wizards have won a game of this magnitude, while the Chicago Bulls passed along some telling postgame comments from Washington coach Randy Wittman:
Wizards win Game 1 of a 7-game playoff series for 1st time since 1979— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 21, 2014
Wittman: "After yesterday's practice I knew these guys were focused like they haven't been before and that's a good sign." #WASvsCHI— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 21, 2014
Wittman: "Guys that haven't been in the playoffs understand now that the game is different." #WASvsCHI— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 21, 2014
Chicago Sports Guy noted that all is not lost for the Bulls though:
The winner of game 1 in a Bulls playoff series hasn't won the series since the first round of the 2011 playoffs, when the Bulls beat Indiana— Chicago Sports Guy (@ChicagoGuy23) April 21, 2014
This game marked the fourth time this postseason that a road team won the first game of a playoff series, which means the "favorites" are 3-4 thus far. Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders thinks this portends good things for the rest of the postseason:
If this first weekend is any indication, the 2014 NBA playoffs are going to be amazing.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 21, 2014
The Washington Wizards will look to take the advantage they earned in Game 1 and sweep the first two games in Chicago. Game 2 is Tuesday night in the United Center.
Look for the Bulls to play with an extra level of urgency in the second game. If they were to lose both in Chicago, the series would be nearly over. The Bulls, who play with as much pride as any team in the league, will do everything they can to prevent that from happening.
However, there is reason to believe Washington will win this series in the long run. Not only have the Wizards seized control of home-court advantage, but the Bulls offense was downright atrocious down the stretch.
Many playoff games come down to the final few minutes like this one did, and Chicago simply doesn't have a player on the roster who can consistently create a shot for himself in a one-on-one situation.
That could spell trouble for Noah and company.