It was almost as if Trevor Ariza was engaged in a game of “Around the World” Sunday, floating from one spot to the another behind the three-point line to position himself for another long-range dagger in Washington’s 98-89 win against Chicago in Game 4.
En route to a playoff career-high 30 points, Ariza hit each of his five first-half three-pointers from a different spot on the court, the last of which came on a trey in the right corner just before the halftime buzzer. As the ball fell through the net, Ariza held his pose while directing a cold-blooded stare to the Verizon Center crowd roaring around him.
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“Just living in the moment at the time,” Ariza said. “It was a big shot for our team. It gave us a lot of momentum going into halftime. Just want to keep that pressure on, let my teammates know that when the ball comes to me, I’m ready for it and we’re not losing today.”
Indeed, when Ariza’s locked in, good things happen to the Wizards. On Sunday, his 30 points nearly bested the output from Chicago’s starters, who only mustered 47 total points. In games where Ariza scores at least 20 points this season, Washington is 13-5 overall, including a 7-0 mark the last seven times Ariza has reached that plateau. On the other hand, the Wizards are 8-10 when Ariza scores less than 10 points.
As the Wizards found out in Friday’s Game 3 loss, when Mike Dunleavy hit eight three-pointers, there’s not much defense for a player that can knock down shots off screens and in transition. This is especially true for the Wizards, who possess Ariza’s three-point accuracy and length to shoot over taller defenders as well as a point guard like John Wall, who loves to pass off of dribble penetration. The moment Wall makes his move, Ariza can often be seen sliding to the closest open spot while readying himself to pull the trigger once the ball comes his way.
“I don’t think I want to tell the secret but we just make the right reads,” said Wall, who finished with 10 assists. “We’re just taking what the defense gives us [and] me just trying to attack.”
Those elements were missing Friday. Too often, the Wizards failed to rotate the ball after one pass, instead resorting to hero-ball attempts at drawing ooos and aahhs from a raucous home crowd in their first playoff game of the postseason.
Though Ariza scored 11 of Washington’s points during a 17-2 run to open the game, all five starters either scored or assisted on a play in that stretch. This concerted effort on offense quickly translated on defense, as the Wizards forced Chicago into three turnovers and two timeouts in vain efforts to stop the bleeding.
Through four games, Ariza boasts the league’s third-best plus-minus rating in the NBA playoffs, with the Wizards outscoring teams by 11.2 points when he’s on the court. Part of that stems from his best-known weapon: his three-point shot. Ariza has hit 13 of his 27 three-point attempts (48.1 percent) to help Washington rank as the second-best long-distance shooting team of the playoffs (40.1 percent) behind Miami.
The other part stems from the overlooked parts of Ariza’s game. During the regular season, the Wizards second leading rebounder wasn’t Nene or Trevor Booker but Ariza. The 6-foot-8 swingman pulled down 475 rebounds (6.2 per game), using his length to corral misses and help jumpstart Washington’ transition attack, where they outscored Chicago, 16-2, on Sunday. Ariza has improved this number in the postseason, grabbing 34 rebounds in four games, which is just one less than team leader and center Marcin Gortat.
“Tonight was my night to take on the scoring load and throughout the series, I’ve been patient and just playing the way that we’ve played all year,” Ariza said.