CHICAGO — It was a dazzling, dizzying display, fueled by desperation that featured Jordan Crawford fearlessly taking jumpers, JaVale McGee angrily greeting shots with his huge right hand and the Washington Wizards chopping a 17-point first-half deficit to one.
If not for an unlikely three-pointer by Chicago Bulls center Kurt Thomas to end the first half of Tuesday’s game, the Wizards would’ve felt much better as they entered the locker room. But that didn’t stop Coach Flip Saunders from giving his scrappy, undermanned group a nickname: “The Nasty Nine.”
Despite being limited to nine players — just seven of them healthy — the Wizards tried to hang until they inevitably grew weary against a superior foe and lost, 98-79.
“I can’t fault that effort. We keep that effort, we’ll be okay,” Saunders said after the Wizards lost their fifth consecutive game by double digits. But unlike previous efforts at home, they didn’t roll over in the first half and only gave in when their legs wouldn’t allow them to keep up.
The situation couldn’t have been less promising for the Wizards when they arrived at United Center on to face the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. Nick Young and Josh Howard joined the ever-growing list of injured players. John Wall was playing with a sore left foot and Trevor Booker a sore left shooting hand.
Some of what remained of the roster used the opportunity for extended playing time to set new season highs or career milestones. Crawford set a career-high with 27 points. McGee recorded his first career triple-double — 11 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 12 blocked shots. Yi Jianlian matched his season-high with 14 points. But the Wizards (16-50) again had no answer for Derrick Rose, who scored a team-high 23 points and heard “MVP” chants nearly every time he touched the ball.
With his father, George Montgomery, and other relatives in attendance, McGee set a NBA season high in blocked shots, as well as the record for the most blocks by a Bulls opponent in a regulation game.
McGee had four in the first quarter, including an impressive sequence in which he blocked a layup and three-point attempt by Rose on the same series. He matched his previous career high with seven blocked shots in the first half alone. The showing was even more startling considering that McGee had 12 blocks in the first six games this month. (Manute Bol holds the Washington franchise record with 15, set nearly 25 years ago.)
“JaVale didn’t score a lot of points, but he protected the rim as well as he has all year,” Saunders said. “We’d like to see more. We always told him, ‘You can have an impact on the game’ and not from his scoring.”
Needing one more point to get a triple-double, McGee drove and dunked with 18.7 seconds remaining, picking up a technical foul after he did a chin-up on the rim.
“It was a dunk of relief,” said McGee, who had fumbled previous attempts in the fourth quarter to get his final basket. “That was the hardest one point I ever tried to make in my life. It was crazy but I got it.”
Crawford, whom the Wizards acquired at the trade deadline from Atlanta, set his career high for the second time in four games. He has never been shy about taking shots and with the ultimate green light on a night when the Wizards’ best offensive options were sidelined, Crawford had the necessary aggression. He certainly had his shots falling in the first half, as he scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
He started to fatigue in the second half, as the Bulls made shutting him down an emphasis and Keith Bogans (season-high 17 points) did his part to get physical and challenge him nearly every time he elevated for a shot.
“I just want to keep it going,” Crawford said. “I want to feed off this game and keep it going. I don’t want it to stop.”
Wall had contemplated not playing after his foot started to flare up on the plane ride to Chicago. He even wore a suit to the arena, expecting to sit on the bench. But he wanted one last chance this season to compete against Rose, who has bested him in their previous outings. Wall finished with a respectable 17 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists.
“I just wanted to compete and play,” Wall said. “Guys was down and I felt if it wasn’t hurting too bad and I could play, then why not? I have time to rest when the season is over.”