We’ve gotten used to the road win taking home court advantage in these playoffs, and the Washington Wizards beating the Chicago Bulls in the series opener was no different from the trend, taking a 102-93 win thanks to a strong finish with an excellent performance from Nene and an overall great effort on the glass.
The Bulls did win the offensive rebound battle, grabbing 13 to the Wizards’ 9, but the Wizards wouldn’t allow that to become a factor that decides the game. The Bulls shot 42% from the field including a bad 25% from beyond the arc, as D.J. Augustin was almost like a sixth player for the Wizards on the floor for most of his minutes, hitting only 3-of-15 from the field and turning the ball over three times. He did score 16 points thanks to his free throw shooting, but the Bulls needed something more controlled and efficient from him.
The Wizards had all their starting lineup score 13 points or more. Nene was dominant and almost unstoppable through certain stretches, scoring 24 points and grabbing 8 rebound before fouling out. He and Gortat were able to end Chicago’s domination down low during the second half, as the Polish center helped out with 15 points and 13 rebounds, not looking too frightened by the presence of Noah and Gibson.
It was a playoff debut for John Wall, scoring 16 points with 6 assists and rebounds. He didn’t shoot the ball too well, trying to do a bit too much for most of the time and struggling to find an opening in the Bulls’ defense, but Washington worked the mid-range game pretty well and managed to get to the line 35 times, also making a big difference during the game. Trevor Ariza had 18 points, including two free throws with 4:17 left in the game that handed Washington the lead (88-87) for good after trailing by five early in the fourth.
The Bulls’ plan of suffocating defense while playing smart offense didn’t pan out. Augustin made sure there was nothing slow and deliberate about their offense when he was on the floor, Joakim Noah did have a double double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but couldn’t find open men like he’s been used to this season. The execution from shooters wasn’t exceptionally impressive as well. The Bulls have played a lot better so many times this season, but they looked flat and unresponsive to the challenge in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards are on of five teams that claimed the opening game of the series on the road, but it doesn’t project too much on the rest of the series. Chicago are a good road team, and after losses comes the time for adjustments, which usually shows how good of a coach you are and how smart and disciplined the players happen to be. We know that about the Bulls, no matter who is playing. The Wizards, or at least most of their players, are in uncharted waters, and their reaction to suddenly becoming favorites will be a bit more surprising.