For the first time in almost a decade, the Washington Wizards have advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs after winning Game 5 on the road Tuesday night against the Chicago Bulls, 75-69.
NBATV and SportsCenter put the Wizards win in perspective:
Wizards win! John Wall leads the way with 24 Pts, 7 Reb, 4 Ast. Washington's third playoff series win in 35 YEARS. pic.twitter.com/wbtXge4fo0— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 30, 2014
This wasn't so much a basketball game as it was a war of attrition. The Wizards shot 40.5 percent from the field, while the Bulls only converted 33.3 percent of their looks. Washington turned the ball over 12 times and Chicago 11 times, all but one of which came in the second half.
It was a rather fitting end to what's been such a nightmare season for the Bulls following the injury to Derrick Rose. Without him, Chicago lacked the kind of offensive threat who could've dragged the team through the fog and propelled it to victory in this series.
Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich scored 16 points apiece, while Carlos Boozer finished one rebound shy of a double-double with 10 points and nine boards. Joakim Noah was a beast on the glass (18 rebounds) but offered little on the offensive end (six points).
Compare that to the Wizards, who got 24 points from John Wall and 17 points from Bradley Beal. Washington's guard duo has been huge all series, and they put the final nail in Chicago's coffin on Tuesday.
Game 5 also saw Nene's return to the starting lineup after his Game 4 suspension, and the 31-year-old made his presence felt. He finished with 20 points on 10-of-17 shooting, seven rebounds and four assists, once again proving to be a thorn in Chicago's side.
Before the game, he talked about how ecstatic he was to see his team win on Sunday, per Michael Lee of The Washington Post:
Great, great. I was home and I was so excited, in ecstasy, the way they play. They play with a passion. I see a lot of fire in the player's eyes. It was a really special game under the circumstance. I always give glory to God, because people plan things but God, he didn't disappoint me. He bless me, he bless my team with amazing victory.
Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post was surprised at how much Nene was bullying around the Defensive Player of the Year, Noah:
Nene making the DPOY look pretty helpless tonight. And for that matter, most of this series.— Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) April 30, 2014
The numbers illustrated his success when facing off against the Bulls big man, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Nene has scored 10 of his game-high 18 points with Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah as his primary defender (5-9 shooting).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 30, 2014
On the defensive end, Nene and fellow big man Marcin Gortat helped to stifle the Bulls' scorers when they got inside the paint:
In Games 1-4, the Bulls shot 54% in the paint. Tonight, the Bulls are shooting 32% (9-28).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 30, 2014
Looking at the bigger picture a bit, both ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh and Basketball Insiders' Nate Duncan felt Washington's series win was vindication for head coach Randy Wittman:
Credit where credit is due: I really didn't think Wittman could beat Thibodeau in a series, much less in five games.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 30, 2014
Why did everyone think Wittman was so awful again? Sure seemed pretty good this series.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) April 30, 2014
Although this game wasn't entirely one-sided, the Wizards owned the majority of the advantage.
The score was tied 41-41 at halftime. Washington had dominated the first quarter, with Chicago responding in the second.
Once the third quarter began, though, the Wizards began to slowly but surely exert more and more control. On the TNT broadcast, color analyst Steve Kerr pondered if some of the Bulls players were simply tired after what was a grueling regular season and playoffs.
Heading into Tuesday night, Butler and Noah were averaging over 40 minutes a night, while Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson were all up over 30 minutes a night, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Wizards left the door open for a Bulls comeback, but Chicago's stars proved incapable of putting together a long enough run to retake the lead. Between compensating for Rose's injury for most of the year, losing Luol Deng midseason and fighting back from what was a 3-1 series deficit heading into Game 5, the Bulls simply looked spent.
An injury to Gibson in the fourth quarter made their comeback attempt that much tougher:
Taj Gibson just rolled his ankle contesting a shot, looked pretty bad on the replay.— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 30, 2014
Without Gibson underneath, Chicago surrendered multiple offensive rebounds late in the game, keeping the Wizards' possessions alive and taking valuable seconds off the clock.
The Bulls got to within three points, 72-69, with three minutes to go, but couldn't finish the job.
With the victory, the Wizards will get the winner of the Indiana Pacers-Atlanta Hawks series in the conference semifinals. Given the way Washington dispatched the Bulls, it has to like its chances against either team. The Hawks have played well in the postseason, but they also have a regular season full of average basketball. The Pacers, meanwhile, are in a tailspin.
No matter whom the Wizards play, they'll have a great shot of advancing to their first conference final since their run to the NBA Finals in 1978-79.