The Wizards survived a two-game slugfest in Chicago, withstood the absence of Nene, and are now one win from claiming the franchise’s first playoff series victory since 2005 – and just the third since 1979. But veteran Drew Gooden doesn’t want the Wizards to feel comfortable being up three games to one on the Bulls; he expects them to be the more desperate team in Tuesday’s Game 5 at United Center.
“We have a wounded animal right now, and we want to kill it,” Gooden said, pausing to chuckle. “I don’t want to offend any of the PETA people out there. That was only an analogy.”
Gooden understands the mind-set required to finish off an opponent, because he’s experienced the disappointment of blowing a 3-1 series lead. During Gooden’s rookie season in Orlando, Tracy McGrady put the Magic one win away from advancing over the Detroit Pistons to the second round with two of the final three games on the road. The Pistons won the final three games and started a run of six straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals. Detroit won the NBA championship in 2004 and reached the NBA Finals the following year.
“We had a chance to put them down and finish them and we didn’t — and then they started a dynasty in the Eastern Conference for the next five, six years,” Gooden said of the Pistons. “That was something I always looked back at. We could’ve beat that team, being up 3-1, just one game. Who knows? The Pistons would’ve probably never been the Pistons.”
Playoff novices John Wall, Bradley Beal and Trevor Booker have never been in position to close out a team, so they don’t know what to expect from a team on the brink of elimination, at home. But Wall doesn’t plan to deviate much from the strategy that has allowed the Wizards to build such a commanding lead.
“I think just play the way we’ve been playing,” Wall said.
Coach Randy Wittman is also making his playoff debut as a head coach but has passed along knowledge from his experience as a player and an assistant.
“Every game in a series is tougher than the last; it just is,” Wittman said. “It will be five games in a row playing the same team. It becomes harder and harder. You know each other better. You know what the other team is running better. It just becomes whose will is going to hold out. We’ve reached the point of we need one more, and it’s going to be the hardest one.”
Andre Miller is in the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons, but he has only been in position to win one series – in 2012, when the Nuggets lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. The 38-year-old Miller has played the most NBA regular season games of any player to have never advanced to the second round (1,184).
“I’ve been in some close-out games, but I haven’t been on the good end of them,” Miller said with a laugh. “It’s definitely hard. I’ve been in the position a little bit, but on the other end. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a lot of energy, and it’s going to be desperate out there. We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s an opportunity. You definitely want to take advantage of it, so hopefully, we can be poised enough to go out there and pull it off.”
Having won two games in Chicago, the Wizards have confidence in their ability to get a third. Marcin Gortat said the Wizards will benefit from being on the road because it will help them be more focused.
“When you score a bucket over there, we ain’t going to be flexing in front of Chicago fans, flexing and showing how powerful we are. You at home, you score a bucket and we all getting crazy and nuts. We ain’t going to do that over there, we just going to score and get back to defense,” Gortat said. “That’s the good part about it. Obviously, having a lead, 3-1 is great, but it’s not easy from the mental standpoint. They’re going to play desperate basketball. They’re going to come out ready to play. We have to play even better than we played at home. All of us have to perform.”
Just eight teams have won a series after falling behind 3-1 and it hasn’t happened since 2006, when the second-seeded Phoenix Suns rallied to defeat the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. Chicago has never come back from that deficit in eight previous situations. Washington has won all five series in which they held such a lead, the most recent time coming in 1978, in the Eastern Conference semifinals against San Antonio. The Bullets would go on to win the NBA championship.
“We have to go in there and finish off what we started. We can’t relax whatsoever, we’ve got to finish the series,” Gooden said. “One game, they lose, they’re done.”