WASHINGTON (AP)—Juan Dixon was so upset with his performance after Game 3 that he approached his coach in the parking garage and appealed for a vote of confidence.
The rest of the Washington Wizards also were upset—with the perception they couldn’t play defense.
Combine those two, and you get a career-high 35 points from Dixon and a team that took control in the opening minutes by not allowing the Chicago Bulls anywhere near the rim. The Wizards jumped to a 17-3 lead, rattling their opponents early and often in a 106-99 victory Monday that evened their first-round playoff series 2-2.
“It’s like we walked into an ambush,” Chicago forward Tyson Chandler said.
Dixon made 11 of 15 field goals, popping endless jumpers to help build the lead early and stave off the comeback threat until late. He also made all 10 free throws. He scored 25 points in the first three games combined and was an ugly 1-for-10 in Saturday’s Game 3, prompting him to hold up his coach and family for 10 minutes in the MCI Center’s underground lot afterward.
“I said, ‘Coach, don’t lose confidence in me. I’m going to step up and get my act together.’ That’s pretty much what I said, but I said it, like, 10 times,” Dixon said. “I made sure that he heard every word. He had his kids in the car. He said he was ready to go get something to eat. I just wanted to drill that in his head and make sure he heard it.”
On Sunday, Dixon took 750 shots before practice and 300 afterward.
“Juan is one of the toughest players I have been associated with,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “He is very sensitive to his profession. He cares about his teammates and about winning. He has won at Maryland and he wanted to be a big part of the playoffs and have an impact—and he certainly had an impact tonight.”
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Chicago. The home team is 4-0 in the series, hardly surprising given both teams’ youth and postseason inexperience.
“We got down, the crowd got into it and for whatever reason, we didn’t have the guts,” said Kirk Hinrich, who scored 18 points for the Bulls. “We definitely have to regroup and go back home. We just feel fortunate the series is still tied.”
Dixon was the second straight Wizards hero not a member of the Big Three of Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison. Etan Thomas was the unexpected threat in Game 3, but Dixon’s performance made the home-court advantage even greater because he’s already a local star, having led Maryland to the NCAA title in 2002.
“Our bench has realized,” Jamison said, “the Big Three can’t do it by themselves.”
But the game was all but decided before Dixon hit his first shot. The Wizards blocked a shot and forced two turnovers on the Bulls’ first three possessions, giving little hope for a Chicago team has lost 10 straight at the MCI Center. The Wizards have won six straight overall at their arena.
The Bulls didn’t even get a rebound until Antonio Davis pulled one down more than 4 1/2 minutes into the game. They didn’t get a field goal until Hinrich drove for a layup with more than 5 minutes elapsed. The score was 29-15 after one quarter and 61-37 at halftime.
The Wizards were justly criticized for lacking a cohesive halfcourt defense in the losses at Chicago, forcing Jordan to play more zone in Game 3. Jordan used both Monday, with plenty of success: The Bulls shot 24 percent in the first half and 34 percent for the game.
“We really took it to heart,” Jamison said. “My teammates took it to heart. People have been saying that we’re a soft team, that we’re not a great defensive team. ‘How can you turn on the switch if you haven’t done it all year?’ Guys wanted to come out and show the world that we can be a great defensive team, we can be an aggressive team, and we can make it difficult for our opponent.”
Jannero Pargo added a season-high 18 points for the Bulls, whose backups made the game somewhat interesting with a 13-0 fourth quarter run, then an 8-0 run that trimmed the lead to eight with 1:07 remaining. Pargo even got the deficit to six with a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining.
The Bulls, though were trying to recover from a 28-point deficit, and they ran out of time.
“We got complacent there toward the end,” Jamison said.
Hinrich was 6-for-17 from the field. Ben Gordon, who has been bothered by a bad cold, went 1-for-13. Pargo was 6-for-17. Chris Duhon, bothered by back spasms during the morning shootaround, started but played just 9 minutes and didn’t score.
“Every move I made, I was in pain,” Duhon said.
Dixon and the Wizards were playing so well that their usual stars, Arenas and Hughes, weren’t much of a factor for long stretches. Arenas scored a quiet 23 points, and Hughes scored 10 on 3-for-16 shooting. Jamison added 18.
“That would be called a whuppin’ where I come from …” Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. “Right from the beginning, they just attacked us. We just didn’t have any answers.”
The teams will leave Washington with one overriding question: Can either win a game on the road?
“The first two games there was our first experience” in the playoffs, Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “We feel that there is a comfort zone now.”
The Bulls haven’t won in Washington since April 11, 2003. … Washington forward Kwame Brown was sidelined with a stomach virus. … Arenas, Hughes, Jamison and Dixon were warned by the NBA for wearing their shorts too long in Game 3. All four had their shorts pulled up a little higher Monday. … Jamison received the Magic Johnson Award, given annually by the Professional Basketball Writers Association to a player deemed successful on the court and cooperative with the media.