Wizards 102 – Bulls 93
April 20, 2014
United Center, Chicago, IL
Well, well, well, Washington Wizards fans—nothing like starting the first game of playoff basketball in six years with a gritty win. In what was a nailbiter up until about 45 seconds left in the game, it was a Marcin Gortat putback that sealed the fate of Chicago, and ultimately the fans were treated to a gem of a game.
It all started with a huge Nene slam to get things going, and as I’ll address below, the game was mostly on his shoulders all night in a difficult matchup with one Joakim Noah.
The Bulls are a fighting team, and fight they did. The Wizards never got their lead above six in the first half and the Bulls ended up going on a tear right before halftime. The Bulls then came out of halftime and took advantage of some sloppy Washington turnovers, and things were beginning to get a little #SoWizards on Twitter.
But the panic would not last long as the Wizards ended up going on a run in the final minutes of the 3rd to rekindle the energy and passion on the bench and on the court.
The bench played some integral parts tonight with Andre Miller getting 10 points in 13 minutes to give John Wall a nice break in the 4th quarter. Other than Miller, however, there was not too much production from anyone else as the only other bench production came from Booker and Webster, who each had three points apiece.
The Wizards ended up pulling this one out in what’s going to be a very fun series to watch. With almost all of the analysts on TNT’s side picking the Wizards to win and Bill Simmons predicting Eastern Conference Finals for the Wiz Kids, it’s a very exciting time to be a Wizards fan.
Nene – 24 points, 8 rebounds, 11-for-17 FG
Just yesterday, I wrote on how Nene was going to be the X-Factor for this young Wizards squad. With the multitude of playoff experience, Nene surely did not disappoint tonight.
Beginning the game off with a real #NeneHands slam, it was immediately apparent that Nene was going to have a huge effect on this game. A matchup with Joakim Noah is no easy task, but Nene made Joakim look like Otto Porter out there with the size difference.
Playing the most minutes in a game since his return, he handled the conditioning surprisingly well. He was able to keep up with the same amount of intensity that the fans are used to seeing on the court for a whopping 36 minutes. Even more impressive is the fact he was able to keep up this intensity in what looked like a very physical game at all times in the post.
The big part of his game tonight was the fact that his jumper was sinking, too. For once, I wasn’t screaming at the television when he shot the long-two—I was instead filled with confidence. Going 11-17 from the field, Nene is going to need to keep this production up throughout this series because you can guarantee that the Bulls are only going to come back harder in the post on Tuesday.
A forgettable night for:
Bradley Beal – 13 points, 3-for-11 FG
Beal played tonight like it was his first career playoff game. He looked shaky from the get-go, but did show some glimpses of talent here and there. However, with no real contribution to the game, he wins the LVP tonight.
Beal, who has still been struggling with his shot as of late, just looked shaky on all fronts. Even with seven assists, it looks like he needs to shake some of these nerves out of his system. It’s difficult to be too hard on him, because after all he is only 20 years old on the biggest stage of his life.
I would look for Beal to be a little more comfortable in Chicago on Tuesday and for his offense to be a catalyst as they will probably be faced with an improved plan from Chicago on Nene and Gortat.
Key stat of the game:
In the last regular season game, I mentioned that Washington needed to get themselves together at the free throw line because they are going to be an integral part of the playoffs. With the physicality of this game, it’s pretty evident that the trips to the line are going to continue to be abundant.
While it didn’t sink them tonight thankfully, this will come back to bite them in the butt in the rest of the series if they cannot find a way to grab these easy buckets.
The Wizards play game 2 in Chicago on Tuesday in what’s likely to be another physically intense matchup. This series is really going to end up coming down to who gets worn out first. It’s impossible for both teams to keep this level of intensity up for another at-least three games, so it’s all going to come down on who wavers first.