Chicago Bulls all-star center Joakim Noah extended his right arm, waved his hand around in attempt to distract Nene, or possibly block his view of the basket. Nene sized up Noah, jab stepped, then pulled up for another baseline jumper that splashed through the net. It was Nene’s eighth jump shot of the night – the most he had hit in any game of his career – in the Wizards’ 75-69 victory in their series-clincher over the Bulls.
The image that followed basically summed up the entire series, as Noah helplessly shook his head, unable to solve a riddle that couldn’t be aided with a defensive player of the year trophy. Nene, on the other hand, ran down the floor, grinning and shouting, “Woooo!”
Nene’s overwhelming presence and the Wizards’ overall dominance in their five-game win may have been a surprise to most prognosticators and many Chicago fans. But afterward, Noah wasn’t going to sugarcoat anything: the Bulls simply lost to a better team.
“They had no holes on that team and a lot of talent – a lot of talent,” Noah said in the Bulls’ locker room with a stocking cap covering his long, curly hair. “Young guys. A lot of vets. Guys who have been there before and you’ve got to give that team a lot of credit. They came in and they deserved it.”
The Wizards won three games in Chicago, with Nene serving as the difference in each win, but the Bulls were more stunned by Washington’s ability to throttle them in the absence of the Brazilian big man in Game 4. That game gave them an appreciation of the talent and depth of the Wizards and essentially knocked any hope of possibly staging a comeback.
“They’re very well coached. Their system definitely bothered us. The ability of their players bothered us. Nene was a beast. I give him a lot of credit. [Marcin] Gortat is definitely a load down there and then they have those young players…Bradley Beal. He’s a beast, man. He’s one of the better players in our league and to be that young and do the things that he can do, it’s very impressive. Like I said, they have a lot of experience, too. Trevor Ariza, somebody who has been there before. And then John Wall, he’s doing a great job pushing the ball up the court. They caused a lot of problems, so you got to give credit when credit is due.”
Noah and Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau did all that they could to lead the team to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference despite losing Derrick Rose to injury for the second year in a row and trading Luol Deng to shed salary. But that run came up short against a team that possessed more offensive weapons, balanced scoring and solid team chemistry.
“They have very good size with their perimeter players,” Thibodeau said. “Beal and Wall are terrific and they are getting better and better. They complement each other well. You can’t overlook the value of Ariza. Ariza can go anywhere and make it hard on somebody. When you have someone like that, there is great value in it. Nene has been a great talent in this league for a long time. He has had injuries to deal with, but he is an all-star talent. Gortat doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He is one of those guys, blue collar, he is out there banging on every play. He does his job, he has great hands goes to the basket, he is hard to guard. Andre Miller, it’s amazing what he does. Ten minutes, 15 minutes, the guy is ageless when he is out there. He makes the team run extremely well. It is a credit to him.”
With the Bulls’ fourth first-round exit in six seasons exposing the team’s flaws without Rose or any other reliable scorer, Thibodeau didn’t make any excuses about losing to the Wizards.
“I thought Randy [Wittman] did a great job. They have a great young team. Ernie [Grunfeld] has done a great job putting that team together. They play hard and they play well. They play together,” Thibodeau said.