The Chicago Bulls are well aware of John Wall’s speed and that he can be a scary sight in the open court. So when Mike Dunleavy started backpedaling, all alone, with Wall charging hard, the Bulls forward decided to simply foul. Dunleavy made the requisite contact on Wall and raised his hand to accept his punishment from the officials — only to realize that Wall hadn’t conceded the bucket.
Twisting like a propeller, Wall flipped the ball over his shoulder and watched the ball bank in off the glass as his body completed a 360-degree spin to the hardwood. Dunleavy certainly couldn't be faulted for making the right play, but the result wasn’t surprising — considering the way things have been going for Wall and the Washington Wizards of late.
“I don’t know how the heck it went in. I was surprised myself,” Wall said with a laugh.
The Wizards needed a little luck to win their third straight game, but they secured a 96-93 victory with a stingy defensive effort that concluded with Nene sizing up Bulls guard Jimmy Butler and cleanly swatting his tying three-point attempt as time expired.
The victory moved the Wizards into sole possession of the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference and put them at .500 for the third time this season. The Wizards host the Detroit Pistons on Saturday with a chance to go above .500 for the first time since October 2009.
“I don’t want to think about it, really. I just want to get over, to be honest,” said Wall, who recorded his 13th double-double with 23 points and 11 assists.
Wall’s crashing-helicopter shot over Dunleavy will be remembered most from this game, since it highlighted a 10-0 third-quarter run that got the crowd engaged and lifted his teammates. “I was just going to go to my behind-the-back move. He fouled me. I wanted to get a shot up to the rim. Luckily it went in,” Wall said.
The Wizards have already been 9-9 and 14-14 and are now 19-19, completing another up-and-down cycle during a roller coaster season that has included a little of everything — except consistency. But they continue playing with the same defensive intensity and ball movement that have resulted in their success.
Six players scored in double figures as the Wizards had 27 assists and shot above 50 percent from the floor for the third straight game. They also limited the Bulls to just one field goal over the final 5 minutes 17 seconds, taking advantage of the drought to beat the Bulls for the second time this week and clinch the season series against a potential playoff team.
“We knew they were going to come out and fight. They wanted revenge. We didn’t give it to them,” said Trevor Booker, who finished with 12 points off the bench.
Washington wasn’t going to be able to duplicate its dominant performance against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat of two days earlier. The Wizards also weren’t going to breeze past Chicago as they did on Monday, when desperation prompted them to have one of their best road performances in recent weeks with a 14-point win at United Center.
Expecting a more physical game, the Wizards found themselves in a grueling battle against the Bulls that required a grind-it-out effort. Former Wizard Kirk Hinrich scored 18 points to lead the Bulls (18-20), who are 6-2 in January with both losses coming against Washington.
Coach Randy Wittman again mostly relied upon the same eight-man rotation that carried the team to its previous two wins. But he faced a difficult challenge and was forced to be a little more creative through the first three quarters with Bradley Beal spending most of the game saddled with foul trouble and Trevor Ariza still recovering from a flu bug that affected him during the win against Miami.
“I didn’t let the foul calls discourage me and I stayed with it, ended up having a pretty big fourth quarter,” said Beal, who played the entire fourth period, scoring nine of his 14 points, and gave the Wizards a 90-89 lead with a jumper with 5:38 left.
Hinrich responded with a jumper to give the Bulls back the lead before Ariza fed Marcin Gortat for a layup, Ariza made a ridiculous, off-balance jumper and Gortat added another layup to put the Wizards ahead, 96-91.
Hinrich hit another jumper to cut the deficit to three, but the Bulls were silent the rest of the way. In the final two minutes, Nene trapped Joakim Noah in the corner and forced him to throw an errant pass out of bounds and forced Butler into missing a jumper in the right corner that came up short.
The Wizards have blown three-point leads in the closing seconds twice this season, leading to overtime games against Milwaukee, but were more prepared on the final possession against Chicago. Wall was guarding Butler, the inbounds passer, but kept his eyes on Dunleavy, fully expecting Dunleavy to get the last shot.
When Dunleavy caught the pass, Wall jumped him and made Dunleavy quickly give up the ball to Butler. Nene then switched off Noah to guard Butler, waiting patiently for him to rise so that he could slap the ball and catch it on the way down.
Martell Webster also finished with 14 points. Gortat had 13 points and three blocked shots. Nene had a terrible offensive night, missing 12 of his 15 shots, but still finished with 10 points and two crucial blocked shots.
“It wasn’t our prettiest win,” Wittman said. “But it was a gutty one.”