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Game 1 | Wizards 102, Bulls 93

Wizards make the Bulls’ good feelings disappear

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The Washington Wizards had something of an in your face strategy against the Bulls Sunday that went a long way toward the Wizards’ 102-93 victory in Game 1 of the playoffs.

The Wizards basically declared, “You guys aren’t that good.”

It wasn’t exactly in those words, and I’m fairly sure no one among the Wizards even thought that.

The Bulls were led by D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich with 16 points each, but they combined to shoot 10 of 31.

But, in effect, that’s the way the Wizards played, led by Nene with 24 points and eight rebounds and Marcin Gortat with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

The Wizards, in the first half with Gortat and in the second half with Nene, jammed Joakim Noah, playing him tight and physical and effectively limiting his playmaking that has become the trademark of the Bulls offense without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng.

Noah had 10 points and 10 rebounds, but just four assists and had limited impact on the game.

The Bulls were led by D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich with 16 points each, but they combined to shoot 10 of 31.

The Wizards, in effect, challenged the Bulls. Their setup said, “We know you score with your ball and player movement offense and it comes through Noah. You don’t have any players who are going to beat us off the dribble or take over a game with individual play. So we’ll pressure Noah constantly and see if you can find someone to beat us.”

It looked for awhile like the Bulls would with a 64-51 lead early in the third quarter.

The Bulls trailed 24-22 after the first quarter with Carlos Boozer off to a hot start and then led 54-48 at halftime with Augustin forcing contact for free throws and Taj Gibson aggressive on followups. But the Wizards’ plan was keeping the Bulls from their usual ball movement and just five first half assists.

The Bulls then after Mike Dunleavy’s hot third quarter start to provide the 13-point lead had one of those one-shot-and-out cold spells; they also lost their cool a bit as several players began complaining about the lack of foul calls and dawdled a bit in transition, and the Wizards got back within a point with 3:32 left in the third quarter.

“The third quarter, we did some good things to get that lead,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who did a nice job coming out of the half in getting cold shooting Dunleavy good looks and a 10-3 run (eight points from Dunleavy) to start the half. “If you let your guard down… the lead was gone very quickly. We can’t allow frustration to get in the way of what we are trying to do. You have to adjust to how the game is being called (35 Wizards free throws, 26 for the Bulls). We can’t allow it to take away from our aggressiveness. We have to play hard without fouling. We have to be disciplined. There is a lot of things you can do to help your team win. We are capable of playing a lot better.”

Yes, it’s the playoffs. Man up; or something like that.

This is especially when you miss someone like Rose; it’s someone the Bulls cannot replace.

There’s a lot of good feeling about this Bulls team that got the fourth seed at 48-34 and came in a favorite over the Wizards. But a game like Sunday’s demonstrates vividly how much a team like the Bulls misses someone like Rose.

When you have those scoring droughts or the defense tightens against you, for those five-minute stretches you need a player to make plays. That’s what the great ones do. Everyone talks about those last shots and the fourth quarter scoring of the stars. But what the stars do most is get a team through those rough patches when everything breaks down or fatigue sets in until a second wind. They’ll take over and score three or four baskets to hold off an opponent so the 19-7 over six minutes in the third quarter the Wizards had becomes maybe 19-15.

And then you still have the cushion to get into the fourth quarter with the lead, have your players rested and ready for a strong finish.

“I feel like the main thing we did not do was rebound,” said Jimmy Butler, who had a strong all around game with 15 points, seven rebounds and three steals.

Instead, the Bulls went into the fourth quarter leading 75-72 with, effectively, no cushion.

And while the Bulls have become a better fourth quarter scoring team, they still don’t have that go-to type player to finish a game. The Wizards with Nene continued to play up and physical with Noah. Noah did have one nice pass for a Jimmy Butler dunk that made it 79-74 Bulls with 9:16 remaining. But indicative was that Noah had to go about four feet past the three-point line to make the pass. For the most part, the Bulls can’t operate an offense with Noah that far from the basket.

Also, give the Wizards credit as they were the better defensive team.

Read more on Bulls.com


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Sam Smith: We know Tom Thibodeau isn’t sleeping on the Washington Wizards, against whom the Bulls open the playoffs Sunday at the United Center. And don’t think Thibodeau is softening up an opponent. Because this isn’t a soft opponent, and it’s not exactly the best matchup despite the conventional wisdom.
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Noah, #Bulls head to the 4th with a 75-72 lead over the Wizards. #WASvsCHI pic.twitter.com/EbP4XcVzWT

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Augustin and Gibson have a combined 20 points off the bench. They were huge in the 2nd quarter. #Bulls up 54-48 at half. #WASvsCHI

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With 12 minutes in the books, #Bulls trail Wizards 24-22 in Game 1. #WASvsCHI

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@chicagobulls: In three games against Washington, @JoakimNoah averaged 12.7 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.00 spg & 0.67 bpg in 35.7 mpg. #gamenotes #WASvsCHI