To understand how the Washington Wizards’ first home playoff game in six seasons was ruined Friday night, you first have to understand the gritty Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are fighters, which they proved again while clawing back into the series with a 100-97 victory.
Angry after opening the postseason with consecutive losses in their arena, the Bulls regrouped while showing the Wizards there’s still a long way to go in this series. And now, we’ll learn a lot more about the Wizards.
The tough-minded visitors baited Nene into a fourth-quarter altercation that led to his ejection. The Brazilian big man faces a possible suspension that could leave the Wizards with a huge hole in their lineup for Game 4 on Sunday. Nene’s ejection and the Wizards’ poor finish ended the fun for a sellout crowd at Verizon Center that came to celebrate the Wizards’ fast start in the postseason. The Bulls have a way of doing that.
Anyone who thought the Bulls would go away quietly doesn’t know what they’re about. Despite losing Derrick Rose in November because of a season-ending knee injury and trading Luol Deng in January, the Bulls managed to win 48 games and earn the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
No team in NBA history has won a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games, The Bulls were in must-win territory. They got what they needed and got Nene off his game in the process.
With 8 minutes 28 seconds remaining in the fourth, Nene scuffled with Jimmy Butler, received two technical fouls and was tossed. When Nene headed to the locker room, the Wizards trailed, 78-76.
The buzz in the arena was still strong. After all, the Wizards had overcome double-digit deficits in their two victories at Chicago’s United Center. The Wizards briefly reclaimed the lead in the final few minutes Friday, but the Bulls closed better this time.
The Bulls are comfortable playing textbook basketball or wrestling. The physical play in the series escalated in Game 2 and continued Friday. Nene has been pounded. It’s not surprising he got frustrated and mixed it up with Butler. Nene agrees.
“Things get hot,” he said.
Problem is, the Bulls got the reaction they wanted. Nene is vital to the Wizards’ success. He’s the only player capable of helping John Wall and backup point guard Andre Miller direct the offense in the half-court game. When Nene left the court, the Bulls knew the Wizards were in trouble. “It definitely was a bonus for us to have him out of the game,” center Joakim Noah.
The Wizards knew, too.
“Well, Nene is a big part of what we do, especially down the stretch,” Trevor Ariza said. “Not having him in the game … hurt us.”
For the Wizards, the pain may get much worse before it gets better.
After reviewing tape of the incident, league officials could decide to suspend Nene. Then there’s Marcin Gortat.
He also could face potentially disciplinary action for leaving the bench during the Nene-Butler incident. Leaving the bench in such situations triggers an automatic suspension, but the Bulls called a timeout before Gortat left the bench. It’s unknown how the league will view everything that occurred.
What’s clear, though, is that the Wizards, after their great start in the playoffs, are facing adversity. That’s how quickly things can change when there’s a lot at stake. Coach Randy Wittman figured it was coming.
In the days before Game 3, Wittman reminded the Wizards they hadn’t accomplished anything yet. The first team to four victories advances to the next round, Wittman stressed.
Fans giddy about the results in Chicago took to sports-talk radio and Internet message boards to discuss the Wizards’ road to the Eastern Conference championship series. First, the Wizards have to work on playing it cool after falling into the Bulls’ trap.
“We had scuffles all three games, basically,” Wittman said. “We have to make sure we don’t lose our composure, where we get thrown out of the game like that. It doesn’t matter who. We just can’t afford that.”
True, but Nene is as savvy as any veteran in the league. He knows better. “We have to do a better job,” Wittman continued. “It’s very emotional. It’s a very emotional game and [a] tough game. But you have to be able to maintain so you don’t lose your cool [and] get thrown out. That’s the main thing you have to learn from this.”
Another takeaway is that the Bulls plan to keep fighting until the series is finished. If they didn’t know before, the Wizards sure realize it now.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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