CHICAGO – Among the most important points Wizards coach Randy Wittman wanted to hammer into his players’ minds before the playoffs began was that at some point, they’d be the victims of their opponent’s long scoring run.
It happened in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, when they won despite trailing by 13. And, as it turns out, it happened again in Game 2 on Tuesday.
“We might come out and play great at first, and they’re, at some point, going to make a run,” Wittman said. “What are we going to do? Are we going withstand it? Are we going to splinter? Or are we going to stay together and keep fighting?”
The Wizards didn’t merely claw back when they faced a 10-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter. They landed body blows, both on offense and defense, giving them the energy for one final punch.
The consecutive victories marked the first time the franchise has won the first two games of a series scheduled to last at least three games since 1975. And, their present situation gives them a tremendous edge – home-court advantage through the rest of the series, as well as the chance to wrap it up and advance to the next round as early as Sunday.
Reserve guard D.J. Augustin again paced the Bulls, scoring 25 points with seven assists. Joakim Noah had 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Taj Gibson had 22 points and 10 rebounds.
It appeared, early on, that the result wouldn’t be in doubt. The Wizards scored the first seven points of the game and led 29-12 after Trevor Ariza sank a three-pointer with 1:47 remaining in the first quarter.
Chicago pulled to within 31-20 after the first quarter, and a 9-0 run late in the second quarter had them down just one point with 1:20 remaining until halftime. But Wall carried his team into the break, staving off the lead change by scoring Washington’s final seven points before halftime – including a 14-footer from the left elbow with 1.8 seconds left for a 56-49 lead.
A jumper by Mike Dunleavy with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter gave the Bulls their first lead, and a pair of free throws by Jimmy Butler, who played all 53 minutes, gave the Bulls an 87-77 advantage with 6:59 remaining.
But Washington closed the fourth quarter on a 14-4 run, tying the score at 91 when Beal made one of two free throws with 52.9 seconds remaining. Augustin, who finished with a team-high 25 points but none after Ariza began defending him, missed a jumper with 10.5 seconds left, and Nenê and Gibson fought for the loose ball – a play that led to a jump ball recovered by the Wizards.
Wall’s inbounds pass, from in front of Chicago’s bench, went to Beal, and he broke free from Butler on a screen set by Nenê at the top of the key. Beal dribbled down the right side and into the corner, but his long jumper, contested by Butler and Noah, hit the near side of the rim.
Nenê, who finished with 17 points in 40 minutes, scored the Wizards’ first six points in overtime. They maintained that six-point lead with 39 seconds remaining, but Noah made a lay-up and then a pair of free throws within the next five seconds.