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An inside look at Bulls/Wizards 2014
by Sam Smith
Posted on Apr 17
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The Bulls and Wizards played just three times this season with the Wizards winning two. Both of those wins were in January, shortly after the Bulls traded Luol Deng. Though the Bulls were playing well in that stretch with seven wins in nine games, both losses were to Washington, which had Nene playing at the time. Nene suffered a knee injury after those two games. He returned late in the season, but after the Bulls won in Washington April 5. Here’s a look at the three games between the teams this season.
Game 1 on January 13: Wizards win 102-88 at the United Center
The Wizards led all the way after an 8-0 start with Nene and John Wall each scoring 19. The Bulls were down 15 in the first half, closed to four in the third quarter but then gave up a pair of threes and Nene closed it out with a strong fourth quarter as the Bulls had trouble containing Nene’s post stretch. They did take advantage of Nene’s general unwillingness to chase out on shooters.
“Thibs said we did not play with enough of an edge and gave up a lot of points,” said Joakim Noah, who had eight points and 16 rebounds. “I think they shot the ball well. Overall, our intensity was pretty good. But we are definitely capable of playing better.”
Added Kirk Hinrich: “They are a very good offensive team. Maybe we were a little soft early. And they got going. There’s going to be nights like that. We’ve got to make sure there aren’t a lot of nights that are like this and we’ve got to get back to who we are. We have been playing well (with five straight wins coming in). Tonight, not so much.”
Both teams went to 17-19 in the game in a curiosity of the Wizards having a better road record at the time. Center Marcin Gortat had a curious theory: “We can focus in the hotel. In the locker room, we’re just sitting in one little room and trying to get ready for the game. At home there’s just too many rooms, too many places where you can go. Too many places where you can dance and sing.”
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 19 points and the Bulls got one of his more aggressive games from Tony Snell. But in continuing that winning streak after the trade of Deng the Bulls also made a point around the league. Said Wall: “Everybody probably thought they were tanking and they were going to try to redo their team. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the league.”
Game 2 on January 17: Wizards win 96-93 in Washington
The Wizards against got off fast, though the Bulls matched their scoring early and trailed 30-27 after one quarter. But it was the next game after the triple overtime win in Orlando two nights earlier, the second triple overtime game of the season.
The Wizards were in that odd stretch trying to finally get above. 500 for the first time in John Wall’s career and had fallen back. The win got them to 19-19 while the Bulls fell to 18-20. It was more pause as the Bulls would go on to have the best record in the Eastern Conference from January 1.
Wall had 23 points and 11 assists and made one of the highlight plays of the season, a fast break layup after a steal in which he made the shot throwing the ball over his shoulder with his back to the basket. But it was a turning point sort of game for the Bulls and the rotation of coach Tom Thibodeau. Tony Snell had some success in the earlier game against Washington’s taller wing and perimeter players. So although Augustin had 16 points in 19 minutes and four of six on threes, Thibodeau sat him down the stretch and the Bulls offense would slow to a near stop. It pretty much would be the end of that experiment and thinking as Augustin would soon move in as a fourth quarter regular down the stretch. It probably took losing that game to get to the team’s most successful fourth quarter lineup.
The Bulls had led 70-62 in the third quarter while Trevor Booker and Martell Webster were hitting shots for Washington. Kirk Hinrich led the Bulls with 18 points. The Wizards scored 10 straight at that point highlighted by the Wall play and the Bulls stalled down the stretch with just one basket in the last 5:17, missing eight of their last nine shots with no Augustin and Snell in and out down the stretch. But the Bulls had a chance to tie trailing 96-93 with about 10 seconds left. A play for Mike Dunleavy was disrupted. Jimmy Butler, who had played 60 minutes in the Orlando game, got the ball, got stuck and had his shot blocked to end the game.
“We had a drought at the end,” said Augustin. “We didn’t make any shots. But we played hard on defense. They made some great plays at the end and really took the game away.”
Game 3 on April 5: Bulls win 96-78 in Washington
It was a dominating performance from the Bulls in a game both teams were peeking ahead for perhaps a playoff matchup.
“It was definitely a statement game,” said Washington’s Drew Gooden. “We were going in the mindset of this being a statement game, getting a possible matchup in the first round, and they took it the same way. They wanted to make a statement early.”
The Bulls did in holding the Wizards to 26 first half points in running up a 28-point lead. Getting Augustin into the rotation full time and down the stretch continued to produce dividends as Augustin led the Bulls with 25 points and was six of 11 on threes. The Wizards are not noted for their defense in the backcourt, though previously Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had been concerned about Augustin’s defense against the Wizards’ high scoring guards of John Wall and Bradley Beal. But Thibodeau stuck with Augustin’s offense and he was backed up by a strong defensive game from the Bulls big men.
It’s a formula the Bulls will use in the first round series against Washington, though Nene did not play in this game. Joakim Noah had 21 points and 12 rebounds as the Bulls won their fifth straight to move into a third place tie with Toronto.
“We lost to these guys at home. We lost to them here. It was just getting this win tonight,” Augustin said. “We’re not looking forward to the playoffs just yet, but we wanted to come out tonight and do it for ourselves.”
The Wizards made a brief run to get within 11 with 35 points in the third quarter, but a Noah three-point play started a 12-0 Bulls run to put the game away.
“Nene gives us another facilitator,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said hopefully. “Against a team like this you need another one. Nene was another guy that kind of can play like Noah does, up at the top with the ball in his hands. I’d love to have him back.”