WASHINGTON (AP)—Aaron Gray stole the show.
Ben Gordon scored 22 points and Luol Deng had 20 in the Chicago Bulls’ 95-84 win over the Wizards on Wednesday night, but the rookie center out of Pittsburgh had career highs in points (10), minutes (29), rebounds (10) and assists (five).
“Right now teams are playing off of him and he’s making them pay,” Chicago coach Scott Skiles said. “He knows how to play.”
Gray’s personality has already made an impression on his teammates—Kirk Hinrich called him a “big-time goofball.” On Wednesday, his play made an impression as well.
His biggest problem at the end was fatigue. He beat his previous high in playing time by nine minutes.
“You get a little tired, but when the game’s on the line like that, the last thing you want to do is let your teammates down,” Gray said. “That’s going to give you all the energy you need.”
Gray’s breakout game came on a day the Bulls were looking for help in the paint. Chicago was playing without center Ben Wallace, who missed his first game of the season with a sore left foot. Before the game, Wallace said the foot had been bothering him for a while.
“I’ve got bone spurs on the top of my foot,” Wallace said. “It bothered me last night more than any other time.”
Washington was slowed by health issues as well. The team is already missing point guards Gilbert Arenas and Antonio Daniels due to injury, and coach Eddie Jordan said Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison battled illness this week.
It didn’t seem to affect either of them against the Bulls. Butler had his second triple-double of the season and career, with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. The last time any Wizard had multiple triple-doubles in a season was 2003-04, when Gilbert Arenas had three. Jamison scored 24 points for the Wizards.
“Caron and Antawn are just on the border of being healthy,” Jordan said. “They were both really down the last two days—really down—with health issues. They gave us this, so let’s see how they react.”
Joe Smith started at center for Chicago in place of Wallace, but it was Gray’s play off the bench that seemed to give the Bulls a spark after a sluggish start.
Washington scored the first eight points of the game, and opened up a 27-14 lead with about a minute and a half left in the first quarter. Gray, who had entered the game about three minutes earlier, helped turn the Bulls’ fortune at that point. He had two assists and a jump shot on Chicago’s next three possessions.
Starting with those possessions, Chicago outscored the Wizards 31-13 to close out the first half.
“Coming in as a second-string guy, you’ve got to bring some energy to the team. I’m just trying to find the best way to do that,” Gray said. “I kind of just take what they give me.”
Gray gave the Bulls a spark early, and it was Gordon and Deng who sealed the game. The two each contributed five points to a 12-0 run in the final four minutes to secure the win.
“We got a couple of long rebounds and we were able to convert in transition,” Gordon said. “At that point, we wanted to continue to push the ball, because that’s what was working for us.”
Chicago’s run came after Butler’s jump shot gave Washington its first lead of the second half, 80-79, with about 4 minutes to play. The loss ended Washington’s four-game win streak. The Wizards turned the ball over 18 times in the game.
“We fell in love with the jump shot in the second quarter and they were capitalizing on our misses, getting out in transition,” Butler said. “We had a lot of turnovers.”
Wallace said he had an MRI Wednesday that showed he does not have a stress fracture in the foot. Skiles expects Wallace to miss practice Thursday and is not sure how long he will be out. “Just got to play it by ear,” Wallace said. … With a handful of players sidelined by injury or illness, the Wizards have been forced to come up with ways to dress enough people for practice. “We’ve got more coaches than players. We had eight coaches out there the one day and six players,” head coach Eddie Jordan said. Asked whether he got involved out on the floor at practice, the former NBA player said he didn’t. “Only ‘Hot Air’ Jordan now. That’s all I am,” he said with a smile. … Well-traveled guard Mike Wilks signed with the Wizards before the game but didn’t play. Washington is his eighth NBA team since he entered the league with Atlanta in 2002-03. “My whole career has been a journey,” Wilks said before the game. “Doing my best to stay ready for a phone call.”