In a season that has been marked by repeated successes at just finding a way, the Chicago Bulls somehow came back to beat the Washington Wizards on Washington’s home court Friday night, winning 100-97 and reducing the Wizards' first-round series lead to 2-1. The Bulls were carried by the lights-out shooting of swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr., who nailed a team playoff record eight 3-pointers on his way to 35 points, all of them desperately needed.
Washington continued to hound Chicago out of its preferred sets. Center Joakim Noah was active as ever on both ends, but could not reignite the passing game that marked Chicago’s fantastic end to the 2013-14 regular season. The Bulls still managed to defend enough to keep the deficits manageable, all while adding timely buckets along the way.
Time became a bit of a factor as the game wore down, the final two game clock minutes of the contest actually took 22 real-time minutes as the Bulls and Wizards traded intentional fouls, missed free throws and turnovers, alongside an unending amount of timeouts. Noah eventually fouled out along the way, joining combatant Nene off the court, after the Wizards big man was thrown out in the fourth quarter for fighting with Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler.
Washington somehow failed to capitalize on 10 first-half turnovers from Chicago, entering the half with only a three-point lead. Solid cherry-picking by Bulls forward Carlos Boozer and Dunleavy’s continued touch beyond the arc kept Chicago’s head above water in the third quarter, and Nene could not continue his winning ways offensively (missing 10 of 15 shots) despite repeated good looks from both the perimeter and low post.
How this leads into Sunday’s Game 4 is entirely up to Washington. The team has proved its mettle on both ends and is clearly the more talented team, but the squad’s inconsistent ways defensively (this is a top-10 defense that just gave up 100 points to the Chicago Bulls) have seemed to carry over from the regular season, where they were far from a lockdown bunch at home. Chicago isn’t exactly brimming with confidence after nearly blowing the game down the stretch, but Wizards coach Randy Wittman has to be frustrated with his bunch for not turning the corner in what could have been a pivotal Game 3.
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