What Happened: Mike Dunleavy scored 35 points and Nene was ejected as the Bulls held off the Wizards for a 100-97 win. Washington now leads the series 2-1 heading into Sunday’s Game 4 at Verizon Center.
What Went Well for the Wizards: With ESPN’s cameras running and the Verizon Center rocking, John Wall fed off the energy to put together an aggressive first quarter, juking, soaring and powering his way past Kirk Hinrich for 11 of his 23 points. Though Nene struggled to assert himself in the post, the attention he drew opened up space for the Wizards to retake the lead behind a 9-0 run powered by Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. Though Chicago seemed to be in control for most of the game, Washington’s strong rebounding — including 13 offensive boards for 13 second-chance points — helped neutralize the hot-shooting Bulls and keep Washington close. The Wizards showed both balance with five players in double figures, and physicality, outscoring the Bulls, 50-34 in the paint – a first for Washington this series. Bradley Beal came up big again in the crunch and finished with a team-high 25 points, but he went just 3-for-6 from the line, including a critical miss in the final 20 seconds that could’ve cut into a three-point deficit. Washington was better from the free-throw line, hitting 15 of 21 attempts. But three combined misses by Beal and Wall in the final minute were critical in a three-point loss.
What Went Wrong for the Wizards: Joakim Noah flexed his Defensive Player of the Year skills against Nene in the post, fronting the Wizards big man while bothering him with his long arms. Nene tried to get going from the outside, but his touch was a bit off Friday, leading him to 5-for-15 shooting from the field. While Nene did endure lots of contact with few foul calls, his complaints to the refs and stubborn offensive approach stalled the Wizards offense at times. Nene would eventually be tossed for elbowing and ramming his forehead into Jimmy Butler during a fourth-quarter altercation. Washington’s zeal on the offense wasn’t always matched on the defensive end. Mike Dunleavy scored a career-high 35 points for the Bulls and knocked down a playoff franchise-record eight three-pointers as he zoomed around multiple picks like he was back in his Duke days. Still, Washington held a nine-point lead midway through the third quarter before three fouls, a turnover and a lack of ball movement allowed Chicago to go on a 14-4 run to take the lead. On a night that saw Nene struggle from the field before being ejected, the Wizards could have used a boost from their bench, which produced just eight poitns. But Washington only got eight points and eight rebounds out of its reserves, compared to the 25 points totaled by Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin.
What to Watch for in Game 4: Washington couldn’t muster a 3-0 lead in a playoff series for the first time in franchise history and while the Wizards still hold a 2-1 series advantage, a win in Game 4 before heading back to the United Center is now paramount for this bunch. The Wizards can take solace in the fact that Mike Dunleavy had a career night, Nene was ejected and they still had several chances to win the game before losing by three. Whether Nene (or even Gortat, depending on how the league views him going onto the floor just as the altercation was unfolding and a timeout was called), is available will of course be key to how Game 4 unfolds. But for the first time this playoffs, the Wizards are in the position of needing to make adjustments, especially on the defensive end. How they react, especially in the early stages of Sunday’s game, could dictate the rest of this series.