After trailing by 10 points with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and by six with just under four minutes remaining in regulation, the Washington Wizards came back to beat the Chicago Bulls, 101-99, in overtime to finish off an impressive road sweep at United Center. Randy Wittman's crew will head back to the nation's capital brimming with confidence and holding a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series. The Bulls will travel east knowing that if they don't figure out a way to scratch out some more points against the Wizards' defense, they might not be long for the postseason.
At least one prominent national basketball commentator isn't banking on Tom Thibodeau and company finding that solution before Game 3 on Friday. Hall of Famer and Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley pronounced Chicago dead on arrival during TNT's post-game discussion of the Wizards' Game 2 win.
Here are Sir Charles' comments, as dutifully transcribed by Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Bog:
“I will tell you this: whoever plays that team in the second round is gonna have their hands full.”
“Are you saying this one is over then?” ["Inside the NBA" studio host] Ernie Johnson asked.
“This is O-V-E-R in a 4-0 sweep,” Barkley said. “It is flat-out over. [The Bulls] can’t beat them. They can’t score enough. Ernie, I told you all season, this was the third-best team in the Eastern Conference when they’re healthy. They’re fully healthy, Wall and Beal are terrific. Nene is the key. He’s a nightmare matchup for most guys.
“They’re gonna sweep the Bulls,” Barkley went on. “This series is a wrap. Whoever they play in the next series, whether it’s Indiana or Atlanta, they’re gonna have their hands full, because this team, they’re deep. They’ve got veteran leadership. They went out and got Andre Miller for leadership. Trevor Ariza’s been deep in the playoffs. Their two best players are [young]. They’re the key. Wall is growing up before our eyes, Beal can flat-out just shoot with anybody. But with the guys coming off the bench, this is gonna be a sweep.”
To be fair, Barkley's within his rights to crow a bit — as he said, he's been touting Washington as the East's third-best team (when healthy) for months, and he was one of relatively few national pundits to pick Washington to beat Chicago in the East's 4-vs.-5 first-round matchup. (For the record, none of us here at BDL picked the Wiz, nor did Woj or Spears. Such haters.)
And the odds of a comeback are certainly stacked against the Bulls. Only 16 teams in NBA history have come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a postseason series — the 15 on this list and last year's Memphis Grizzlies, who came back to knock off the Los Angeles Clippers, and only three teams have come back to win a series after dropping the first two games on their home court. With all due respect to Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and third-place finisher in Coach of the Year voting Thibodeau, this year's Bulls don't have Wilt, West and Elgin, like the 1968-69 Los Angeles Lakers did, or prime Hakeem Olajuwon, like the 1993-94 Houston Rockets did, or 26-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, like the 2004-05 Dallas Mavericks did. They're in serious trouble, and in the case of this particular emergency, they can't break open the glass and pull out a Hall of Fame offensive force to pull them out of it.
Still, though: a sweep? It seems hard to believe that a Bulls team that turned in a winning record away from home (21-20), just beat Washington handily on their home court less than three weeks ago and hasn't lost four straight since mid-December is going to go down without a W. (Then again, on Sunday morning, it seemed hard to believe that Washington would take two straight at the Madhouse on Madison, where the Bulls rolled up a 27-14 record this season.)
Chicago's center — Barkley's favorite player, as he always reminds TNT viewers — doesn't see it going down like that.
"We're really frustrated, but it's the first one to four," Noah told reporters after the game. "So we're not going to back down. We feel like we let two games go at home, but we know that we're capable of winning on the road. We're not happy with the results, down 0-2, but we're a resilient group. We'll come back and keep fighting."
It will be incumbent upon the Wizards, led by All-Star point guard John Wall (16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals) and sophomore shooting guard Bradley Beal (a game-high 26 points, with 11 coming in the fourth quarter), to respond to the veteran Bulls' sure-to-come charge without buckling or losing their composure, as they did in weathering Chicago's second-half surge in Game 2.
"We've got to come out like we're down 0-1 or 0-2," Beal said after the game, according to Andrew Seligman of The Associated Press. "We've got to have that sense of urgency and just that drive and that motivation like we did early. We've got to be able to maintain that lead. We've got to continue to stay poised."
If they can manage that on Friday, they'll be one step closer to making Barkley's mid-series prediction stand up — and to making the entire rest of the NBA stand up and take notice.
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