CHICAGO – Trevor Ariza is usually the essence of chill on the court, breezing his way through the game and maintaining an even keel whether he’s hitting shots or struggling to get much to fall. But as he made his return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, Ariza brought out a more visibly passionate side in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 102-93 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round series against the Chicago Bulls.
The Wizards chopped a 12-point lead in half in just two minutes as Ariza converted a difficult lefty layup with Bulls defensive player of the year Joakim Noah contesting. After Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau called a timeout, Ariza chopped down with his fists and shouted, “Let’s go! Come on!”
Nene carried the Wizards for most of the night and Andre Miller made a surprise fourth-quarter cameo, but Ariza’s contributions got mostly overlooked.
Ariza had the second-highest scoring output of any player on the court. He scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half, when the Wizards outscored the Bulls, 54-39. And, aside from a brief defensive lapse to start the third quarter, Ariza kept his counterpart, Mike Dunleavy, pretty much in check and later shut down Jimmy Butler.
“He was steady. That’s how he plays. He’s just steady,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Ariza. “You look at it, and you’re like 18 [points]? How did he get 18? Just steady, staying in the moment and contributing here, there, over a period of time. He’s been big for us this year, there is no question. In terms of what he’s done for the offense, but obviously, what he does defensively.”
When the Bulls dominated the Wizards, 96-78, earlier this month, Ariza was held to just two points on 1 of 9 shooting in an abysmal 30 minutes. At the time, Ariza was battling an ugly flu bug and had just spent the previous evening chasing around NBA’s second-leading scorer Carmelo Anthony and helping to hold him to a season-low 10 points.
The Wizards are usually at their best when Ariza can hit open shots and he supplied three of their four made three-pointers in Sunday’s win, including a huge shot that brought Washington within 71-70 in the third period. Ariza also snapped a string of two straight games against Chicago in which he failed to make a shot from long distance.
“To be honest with you, I don’t even remember nothing that happened in the past,” Ariza said. “Hopefully, I keep getting good looks and knock them down.”
In two games in Chicago this year, Ariza has shot 6 of 11 from beyond the three point line and efficiently scored 34 points on just 18 shots. The Wizards have also managed to score 102 points in both wins.
Ariza didn’t take a shot in the fourth quarter in Game 1, but the Bulls still had to respect his shooting ability, which allowed him to drive into the lane, draw in the defense and find Marcin Gortat wide open for a layup that put the Wizards ahead for good, 90-88. Miller, Nene, Gortat and Ariza combined to score the first 24 points of the fourth quarter, with John Wall and Bradley Beal contributing just four free throws in the period.
“Nene is an unbelievable talent. He’s a nightmare for the opposing team. Marc is another nightmare for the opposing team. Dre is very poised. And I just try to do whatever it takes to win,” said Ariza, who won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009. “When you have players that are willing to do anything to win, usually the results are pretty good.”