Wall finished with game highs of 27 points, nine assists and three blocks, and he added eight rebounds and made 11 of 13 from the free throw line. He committed one turnover and no fouls in nearly 37 minutes as Washington remained mathematically in the hunt for the playoffs.
“As funny as you might think it is, we’re not eliminated yet,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “Stranger things have happened. Has anybody hit the lotto in here? Let’s go buy some tickets.”
Washington (28-46) is chasing the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks would have to lose all nine of their remaining games while Washington, which owns the tiebreaker, needs to win its remaining eight in order to qualify for the postseason.
Following intermission, the Wizards certainly played with a heightened sense of urgency against the Bulls, who are trying to gain ground for Eastern Conference playoff seeding. Chicago (40-33) entered Tuesday having won four of five and trails the Brooklyn Nets by two games in the loss column for the fourth seed.
Washington limited the Bulls to 32 percent shooting during the second half in which no Chicago player shot better than 4 for 9. The trio of Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich missed 13 of 16 shots over the last 24 minutes, and momentum tilted to Washington when Hinrich, who played 48 games with the Wizards in 2010-11, was ejected with 3 minutes 19 seconds left in regulation.
The Wizards were clinging to an 83-82 lead when Hinrich vehemently argued an official’s ruling of basket interference that negated teammate Nazr Mohammed’s tip-in. After Hinrich drew the first technical, he continued to protest, and a second technical disqualified him.
Wall made 1 of 2 foul shots, but Nate Robinson’s jumper tied it with 2:06 to play. A.J. Price (13 points, 3 for 4 three-pointers) then sank a fadeaway to put the Wizards ahead until Mohammed’s putback tied it at 86 with 56 seconds to go.
“We’re still fighting,” said Wall, one of five Wizards to reach double figures. “We’re not going to give up on the season.”
Trailing by 10 points in the first quarter, the Wizards methodically worked their way back into the game, but each time they got within one possession, Chicago had an answer. When Washington trimmed the margin to 57-54 late in the third quarter, for instance, the Bulls stretched it to eight following Nate Robinson’s three-pointer, and Wittman called timeout.
But the interlude allowed the Wizards to gather themselves, and they came out of the stoppage with seven in a row, including Wall’s three-point play and a Trevor Booker layup off a pass from Wall, to draw to 62-61. After Robinson countered with a jumper, Wall sank a jumper, and Okafor converted a short field goal off a Wall assist for Washington’s first lead, 65-64, with 3:38 left in the quarter.
Ariza (10 points, seven rebounds) tacked on a three-pointer one minute later, but the Bulls reclaimed the lead courtesy of five straight points from Deng, whose three-point play with 24 seconds left made it 69-68. Wall took the ensuing inbounds and made a beeline for the basket, getting fouled as weaved into congestion.
He made both free throws for a 70-69 lead, setting up the seesaw fourth quarter in which the Wizards needed more than five minutes before recording their first field goal. That dry spell allowed the Bulls to take the lead briefly until a pair of three-pointers by Price capped a 9-2 run and jolted a previously docile crowd to attention for the closing minutes.
“When you win a few games like that, you start believing, thinking that you’re supposed to win those games,” said Price, who sank two three-pointers in the fourth quarter. “As opposed to early in the year, we were losing all the close ones. Now we’re just playing hard, and down the stretch we really feel we’re going to win.”