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updated: 4/20/2014 11:34 PM

Wizards steal Bulls' homecourt advantage

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  • Bulls guard Jimmy Butler shoots against Wizards center Marcin Gortat during the second half in Game 1 of an opening-round playoff series at the United Center.

      Bulls guard Jimmy Butler shoots against Wizards center Marcin Gortat during the second half in Game 1 of an opening-round playoff series at the United Center.
    Associated Press

 
 

At the start of a playoff series, there are bound to be surprises.

Washington threw a curveball at the Bulls on Sunday by shifting away from their season-long offensive strategy. Another surprise was an NBA playoff game turning into an endless parade to the foul line.

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The Bulls led the Wizards by as many as 13 points in the third quarter but struggled to score down the stretch and dropped the series opener 102-93 at the United Center. Game 2 is Tuesday night.

In some ways, this isn't such bad news. The last five playoffs series the Bulls have played, going back three years, the winner of Game 1 ended up losing the series.

"We know what we did wrong," Taj Gibson said. "We just let up on the gas. We can't let up on the gas when we worked so hard to get a lead against a good team like that."

All season long, the Wizards have leaned on their two young guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal. On Sunday, coach Randy Wittman changed the emphasis and decided to pound the Bulls inside.

First of all, Wittman returned veteran power forward Nene to the starting lineup for the first time since he suffered a knee injury Feb. 23, and he delivered a game-high 24 points. Then Washington leaned on their playoff veterans, perhaps in an effort to take pressure off Wall and Beal.

During the regular season, the two starting guards averaged 32 shots per game, compared to 21.6 for Nene and center Marcin Gortat. Against the Bulls, the big guys combined put up 27 shots combined, while Wall and Beal attempted 25.

The guards made up for some of that at the foul line. The two teams combined to shoot 38 free throws in the first half and Washington finished the game 26-for-35 at the foul line -- the second-highest number of free-throw attempts by a Bulls opponent this season.

It all added up to the wrong numbers for the Bulls. The Wizards scored 102 points, shot 48.6 percent from the field and outrebounded the Bulls 45-39.

"They're a very talented offensive team," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We have to execute our coverages harder and more efficiently. There were times where we weren't on the same page with some things and there were times when we probably just weren't into them enough."

Washington's highest scoring quarter was the fourth, when they outscored the Bulls 30-18. Veteran point guard Andre Miller scored 8 points in the final quarter and Wittman left Wall on the bench until the 4:33 mark since Miller had the hot hand.

"I wasn't happy too happy with (the defense)," Gibson said. "We were disorganized sometimes. Guys weren't where they were supposed to be on a lot of plays, and it showed late. Andre Miller came in, gave them a big spark off the bench."

Meanwhile, the Bulls went cold from the field in crunchtime. Joakim Noah drained a jumper to give the Bulls an 87-84 lead with 5:54 remaining. From that point, all they could manage was a Jimmy Butler free throw and Noah tip-in for the next five minutes.

The Bulls missed 8 of 9 shots and trailed 98-90 until Butler converted a 3-point play with 20.2 seconds left.

"I didn't think our movement was as good as it normally is," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You've got to make quick decisions. We've got to move without the ball. We've got to screen better. We've got to pass on target. We have to finish stronger. We've got to go through them.

"Flipping the ball up, that's not going to get it done in the playoffs. We've got to take it strong."

Now it's time to study the tape and make adjustments, which is when the ball is essentially in Thibodeau's hands.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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