It’s been quite a long time since the Washington Wizards have won a playoff series, but they’ve upset the Chicago Bulls, winning their first round series in five games, clinching it with a 75-69 victory, pulled through by John Wall and Nene and should be considered as very serious contenders to win the East, no matter who they face in the next round.
The Bulls had home court advantage and a bit more playoff experience going into the series. But offensive talent? The Wizards had the advantage, and made it very difficult for the Bulls to get any sort of explosive momentum going except for the third game in the series when Mike Dunleavy went off. They held Chicago to only 33.3% from the field in game 5, dominating the boards (49-43 and winning on the offensive glass) and simply outplaying the Bulls in almost every aspect of the game.
John Wall came in very handy. He wasn’t very efficient in his shooting, making only 7-of-19 in game 5 and shooting just 36.4% through his first postseason, but with 24 points and 7 assists, generally being the guy to get the Wizards out of sticky situations with his ability to create shots for himself and others, it was hard to deny that he rose above those misses and bad shooting numbers to provide the key ingredient and difference between the teams.
Nene was back from his suspension, and that meant trouble for the Bulls. Joakim Noah has struggled with him all through the series, and Nene scored 20 points, 12 of them with Noah being his primary defender. The Bulls looked better when Taj Gibson was on the floor (+5) but his leg injury pretty much ended their chances of doing anything, as Carlos Boozer was terrible on both ends, and might have made it clear that the road to success begins by using the amnesty clause on his contract.
The Bulls just didn’t have that shooter or one offensive spark to make them overcome the deficit they were in through the entire game, not getting closer than four points from the Wizards in the final quarter. Jimmy Butler scored 16 points, just like Kirk Hinrich, who was 4-of-5 from behind the arc. Joakim Noah was shut down, limited to only six points, and the two remaining offensive weapons for them to lean on, Mike Dunleavy and D.J. Augustin, combined to shoot 3-of-18 from the field.
The last time the Wizards made it to the conference semifinals it was in 2005, when they beat a Bulls team under Scott Skiles. Since then they had three consecutive first round losses, all against the Cavs, and the decline of Glibert Arenas meant the end of postseason appearances for them as well. This year was the end of a five-year drought, and with the East being the way it is, the Wizards can dream a little bit bigger than anyone could have thought.
The Wizards aren’t perfect and have trouble getting things done when Nene is guarded well, which puts too much pressure on Wall to not make mistakes. But they showed their ability to adjust and adapt against an excellent defense, which should come in very handy no matter if their next rivals happen to be the Atlanta Hawks or the Indiana Pacers: Aside from the Heat, the Wizards seem to be as likely as anyone to pull off a stunner and win the East.