CHICAGO – Bradley Beal slipped, fell, fouled Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler and was face-down on the hardwood. Butler headed to the free throw line to put his team up 10 points and Beal was slow to get back up on his feet. With roughly seven minutes left in Game 2 of the Wizards’ first-round series against the Bulls on Wednesday night, Beal and his teammates had plenty of incentive to just stay down and accept leaving town with a split.
But the Wizards team that arrived in Chicago this week for the NBA playoffs was different from the one that routinely gave away games, didn’t pay attention to detail and needed a late surge to leapfrog from seventh to fifth place the last week of the regular season. These Wizards are suddenly hungry, relentless and greedy. That change in attitude helped the Wizards rally to claim a 101-99 overtime victory over the Bulls in Game 2.
“We don’t quit,” Trevor Ariza said after the Wizards went up 2-0 in this best-of-seven series. “Whatever type of game it is, we try to adjust to that while still playing our game. Like, if it’s a physical game, I think we can play physical and at our pace like we like to play. If it’s a finesse game, we can do the same. But one thing we do well is when we’re all locked in, we all play defense well, and that’s key.”
Defense was the reason that Washington closed regulation on a 14-4 run to force the extra frame. The Wizards held the offensively challenged Bulls to just one field goal in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Beal scored nine of the Wizards’ final 11 points, with the run beginning when reserve Martell Webster hit a three-pointer.
The Bulls missed eight of their final nine shots and had four turnovers, with two coming in the form of offensive fouls.
“This team knows, I think, and has the belief now that you have to win games – I’m an old-school coach. I come from Bobby Knight. You had to play defense, and I still think defense wins at this stage of time here,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I’ve got – our guys from last year, I think, really bought into that, and it’s carried forth this year. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish the last couple years with our defensive statistics. We’ve still got a long ways to go, but we’re headed in that direction.”
Two moves in particular, involving the two Trevors, served as the difference in the game. Ariza asked for the assignment of guarding D.J. Augustin, who played all but 28 seconds after the fourth quarter but didn’t score for the final 13 minutes in the game. In his first 27 minutes on the court, Augustin chopped up the Wizards for 25 points.
“Well, I wanted to guard him. He got it going early, and I just – if we want to win, we’ve got to slow him down,” the 6-foot-8 Ariza said. “He was leading their team, so I thought that my length would bother him a little bit and that’s it.”
Wittman stuck with Booker over Marcin Gortat, who was unable to keep Bulls forward Taj Gibson off the boards. Gibson scored 22 points and repeatedly beat the Wizards on the offensive glass, where he grabbed nine of his 10 rebounds. He also helped the Bulls get 18 second-chance points. Booker played the entire fourth quarter, and while he wasn’t able to completely keep Gibson from getting rebounds, he did make sure that he didn’t complete that hustle with made baskets.
“We just know we got to step up our defensive intensity. We know those guys, like D.J. Augustin got himself going, making tough shots and Taj Gibson coming off the bench,” John Wall said. “We just had to change up our coverage. Trevor Ariza did a great job of switching on D.J. Augustin. We was just talking and giving them different looks and just tried to make it tough as possible and give ourselves an opportunity to fight back and make plays down on the other end.”
Beal was player making the most plays, scoring a game-high 26 points, with 11 coming in the fourth quarter.
“It was a team effort. I can’t take all the credit for the fourth quarter,” Beal said while sitting at the podium with Wall. ”There were several breakdowns. I think we got a lot of offensive rebounds and kick-outs and John hit me on a couple and I just stayed with it. They kind of took me out of the flow a little bit, second, third quarters. I really didn’t shoot the ball that much and then the fourth quarter, I took advantage of every opportunity I was open. And I have to give credit to my bigs and this point guard next to me, for setting me up and getting me involved.”
Beal added that the Wizards still need two wins to end the series and can’t afford to be complacent. “We have to come out like we are down 0-1 or 0-2. We got to have a sense of urgency and just that drive and that motivation,” said. “We know they are going to make runs, but we got to continue to stay poised and stay within the flow and keep our core. Not get scattered around and become selfish players. We got to stick together as a team like we’ve been doing and hopefully we can pull out Game 3 at home.”
Booker said he believes that the Wizards have forced people to start paying attention by taking the first two games on the road. “People see that we’re for real. Coming into the series, most people picked the Bulls to win. We knew that. But in this locker room, we knew that we could beat those guys. We’ve still got two more games to win. We’re going back home and trying to close it out.”
Could they get a sweep? “I mean, if we play like we played [in Game 2],” Booker said, “they’re good.”
MORE FROM GAME 2
– Bog: Best and worst from Game 2
– Wise: Another patented comeback.