2014 NBA playoffs: Wizards’ work pays off with 2-0 series lead coming home

Mike Wise
Columnist April 23

When it was over, and Kirk Hinrich had missed from the line, and John Wall threw the ball downcourt and then met Bradley Beal at midcourt for a flying chest bump, the obvious was right there:

Desire is not just a Chicago commodity, purveyed by this city’s ultra-resilient pro basketball team. It also lives in the chests of Wall and Beal, pounding his heart after another jump shot of silk behind the arc. It lives in the torso of Nene, his 6-foot-11, beefy frame going to the floor for loose balls, his stroke as pure as they come in overtime.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

That desire lives in the combined and committed resolve of the Wizards, who Tuesday night overcame the brawn and desperation of the Bulls to secure the most impressive road victory of the John Wall era.

Do you believe they found a way to win this, to take a 2-0 series lead on these physically imposing Brahmas, who so badly tried to turn this into a Greco-Roman match and failed?

The Washington Willfuls 101, These Brawny but Ultimately Bowed Bulls 99.

The Post Sports Live crew talks about why the Bulls are not that threatening of an opponent for the Wizards. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

The series shifts to the District on Friday for Game 3, where they are distributing T-shirts with the words, “DC Rising.” After quieting the Madhouse on Madison, DC Risen is more like it.

The day before the season began in October, Wall said his team was committed to being a better road team. “I haven’t probably won 20 road games since I’ve been here,” he said, lamentably.

The mark was actually 19-96. That’s right, Wall’s first three years resulted in just 19 road victories. This season alone the Wizards were 22-19 on the road and now 2-0 in the playoffs. The Wizards are just the third team in NBA history to win the first two games on the road in the first round.

They play under adverse conditions as well as anyone in the NBA postseason, and nothing was more adverse than Tuesday night.

It was 87-80, Chicago late in the fourth quarter, the series a few minutes from being nearly tied, when Beal, beat up and shadowed all night, found his range and a clutch shot the Bulls didn’t see coming.

He dropped in two three-pointers and a free throw over the next two minutes, accounting for most of an 11-4 run to close regulation and sent the game into the extra period.

From there, Nene was brilliant, connecting from right and left of the key to stake the Wizards to a six-point lead. Washington nearly gave it all back in the final 40 seconds of overtime with some late-game miscues and bad execution offensively.

But after Hinrich missed the first of two free throws with 2.4 seconds left and needed to miss the second, only a rebound would cement the most satisfying win of the year.

There were many defining moments in this one but if you’re looking for an early one that said everything it happened late in the first half.

Hinrich got intimate with Beal, locking arms and torsos with the Wizards guard under the rim. Beal threw up his arms in a “Get off me!” gesture, Hinrich retaliated, actually taking off his goggles like he wanted to fight and — ding, ding, ding! — Game 2 was on.

When the veteran Martell Webster was told how much Beal was roughed up during the game, he shook his head. “Good,” he said. “That kind of game is good for him. It’s part of the maturation process. The way he came back and started hitting shots is how it has to be at this level. Wait till he gets that shot from the corner to go down consistently.”

Joakim Noah gave Trevor Ariza a forearm to the head in the third quarter, leading to another scrum between the starters.

Four technical fouls. Lots of elbows to the throat. And all the animosity a down-and-out team with just one real scorer needed to even things up.

Yes, the Chicago Brahmas were up to their usual goring tactics, trying to physically change the momentum of a series that was already slipping away from their proud palms.

Now came the defining moment for Beal, for really the Wizards in the series thus far: Would he throw? Or would he smile and walk away? He chuckled and walked away.

Down 1-0 in the series and 17 points in the first half, the Bulls dirtied up the Eastern Conference first-round playoffs. They briefly got the Wizards off their game.

Joey Crawford and his officiating crew didn’t help; they let Noah, Carlos Boozer and the bruising Bulls play as physical as they wanted. But they also crawled beneath Washington’s skin, making them settle for jump shots.

When the Wizards did get to the line, they often missed — 11 of their first 20 free throws.

But that resolve that Chicago has cornered so often this time of year was Washington’s way back into Game 2.

With 2:48 left, after a wild possession, Beal nailed a three-pointer from the right wing. Then he dropped in a teardrop with 1:24 left, bringing the Wizards closer.

He had talked earlier in the day about the Wizards’ ability to be such a tough road team.

“I don’t know, it’s kind of weird that we play on the road, but it’s just our confidence,” Beal said. “The biggest thing that helps us, is it’s just us and the gym. We’re a core unit. The 14, 15 guys on the team, we’re all together and that’s what helps us get over the humps in road games, because we’re together, we play hard and we figure the way to win and hush up the home team crowd.”

Now he was doing it in the moment, making big shot after big shot as United Center crowd held its breath and waited for the Bulls to respond.

It never happened enough for Chicago to put away a Washington team that has now twice come back in the second half to win fortitude-testing games away from home.

I’m not saying this series is over. I am saying the Wizards have just as much resilience as the heretofore most resilient team in the NBA. And they have more offensive weapons. I thought they could put Chicago away in a seven-game scrum. I didn’t see going up 2-0 with the next two games at Verizon Center.

But then, I didn’t see a 19-win road team over the past three years winning 24 in a single season, including the last heart-pounding two in the playoffs.

Surreal.

“It’s just us and the gym,” Beal said. “We’re a core unit. The 14, 15 guys on the team, we’re all together and that’s what helps us get over the humps in road games, because we’re together, we play hard and we figure the way to win and hush up the home team crowd.”

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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