Without Nene, Wizards keep rolling
WASHINGTON -- Visible behind Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat as he addressed the media after the game was the team's Hustle Board, which tracks charges taken, passes deflected, and the percentage of shots contested on defense. It's been around, in some form, since the 2011-12 season. But there's a new message at the bottom, which reads: "TAKE PRIDE IN DOING ALL OF THE LITTLE THINGS THAT WIN BASKETBALL GAMES."
The emphasis on the little things has had a positive effect on the Wizards as a team, and it showed in the Wizards' first home playoff win since 2008, a 98-89 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. The Wizards now lead the series 3-1.
"It's growth," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Listen, in 2½ years, we've grown and developed those intangibles you talk about. Not just skill level, but playing the game the right way, doing the right things off the floor as well as on the floor. Being professional, as I like to call it."
The Washington Wizards, without their postseason MVP, Nene, couldn't have asked for a better start to Game 4. They scored on three of their first four possessions: Gortat made a midrange jumper, Bradley Beal scored on a running layup over Joakim Noah and Trevor Ariza hit a 3-pointer.
After a Bulls timeout, those three did it again: Gortat hit another midrange J, Beal found another basket in the paint and Ariza buried another 3.
"They came out with great energy, they got out in the open court, got a few easy ones," Mike Dunleavy said after the game in the visitors locker room. "Next thing you know, we are down 14-0."
At the end of the first quarter, the Bulls were down 10, 28-18. Chicago would get within four points of the Wizards in the second quarter, but Washington closed the half on a 21-10 run, capped off by a corner 3 from Trevor Ariza -- his fifth of the game.
He was "just living in the moment."
"It was a big shot for our team; it gave us a lot of momentum going into halftime," Ariza said. "Just want to keep that pressure on, let my teammates know that when the ball comes to me, I'm ready for it, and we're not losing tonight. We got to keep going, and that was our mentality."
Credit better preparation from the Wizards. "Focus" was a word thrown around by Wittman and his players after final buzzer.
"We were locked in," Wittman said. "I could tell our focus was back [Saturday], even with the news of Nene when it came of being suspended. I saw our guys bond together like, 'That's OK -- big fella's not going to be here, but that's OK.'"
Also credit the Wizards' defense, which held the Bulls to 89 points, a series low, and forced 16 turnovers, which led to 29 points for Washington (as well as a 16-2 advantage in fast-break points).
"There was more of an alertness. Look, it was tough getting shots all through the night," said Dunleavy, who scored 35 points in Game 3 but managed just six in Game 4.
Before the game, Drew Gooden was overheard saying the Wizards were "ready" for Dunleavy.
"I think me and everybody else who guarded him did a tremendous job of not letting him get any open looks, or we made it as difficult as possible on him," Beal said. He shared the podium with John Wall (who had 15 points and a career postseason-high 10 assists).
"We gotta give credit to the bigs, who helped us out a lot, showing on the screens. It was just a personal grudge that we took because he killed us last game. We wouldn't let that happen again," Beal said.
Now, if you're looking for a hero, look no further than Trevor Ariza. He was Dunleavy's shadow (or more accurately, his handcuff) for most of the afternoon and led the Wizards in defensive rebounds (7). On the other end, Ariza was in the zone: He scored a career playoff-high 30 points and tied a franchise playoff record (set by Gilbert Arenas in 2006) with six 3-pointers.
"We all know what he brings to the table: size, defensive presence, rebounding, which is crucial for us, and, obviously, the ability to shoot 3s," Gortat said. "We all knew that at some point he's gonna bring it. Today was the game where they kept him open. He was patient, he was waiting for his opportunities and he was shooting the ball extremely well today."
Wittman's sermons about team basketball have also had a positive effect on young studs Wall and Beal -- a change visible even to Gortat, a newcomer to D.C. this season.
"These two guys are extremely talented and extremely competitive," he said. "I see the difference. They're competing every possession. They got an extra effort. Even if they miss, they're still fighting. Defensively, they're engaged -- especially Bradley, he's a different player."
As for Game 5, Mr. Gortat?
"I'll tell you how it's gonna work: [Nene's] gonna come back in two days, he's gonna drop 30, we're gonna win the game.
"Everybody is gonna carry him on their shoulders. That's how it is. That's what kind of business we are."
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