The main story-line going into Game Four was how the Washington Wizards would react, without having Nene Hilario in the lineup, due to a suspension for grabbing opposing guard Jimmy Butler. Not only was Washington able to play without the big man, but with the exception of a too little, too late run by Chicago, they controlled the entire game that resulted in a 98-89 victory.
The Wizards got off to a blazing start in Game Four, starting with a 14-0 run led by Trevor Ariza’s 11 first quarter points. They did everything right by out-rebounding the Bulls, passing the ball around and making the Bulls work on the offensive end. The Bulls did manage to come back a little towards the middle of the quarter, thanks to a jumper by Mike Dunleavy, which sparked a run, resulting in a 18-28 first quarter score.
The second quarter brought things back to normal, where both teams essentially traded runs to start the period. The half ended 40-55 after a quarter that extended Washington’s lead. At the half, the only player on the Bulls with an offensive game was Taj Gibson with 20 points, while Washington had 17 from Ariza and 14 from Wall.
To start the second half, both teams traded baskets. However, partway through the quarter, the Wizards blew their lead wide open with a 20 point differential that resulted in a 62-82 score, before heading into the final period. While it looked unlikely for the Bulls to stage a comeback, they did exactly that by opening the quarter on a 14-5 run the first seven minutes of the period. However, Chicago’s run did not last. Washington fought back offensively that brought the game to a 98-89 win.
Washington showed their team play to work, with 30 points and eight rebounds from Trevor Ariza, 18 points from Bradley Beal, 17 points from Marcin Gortat and 15 points and 10 assists from John Wall.
The Bulls’ scoring was put squarely on the shoulders of Taj Gibson who had 32 points and seven rebounds, with the inefficient Jimmy Butler with 16, while Noah had a double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
What the Bulls Need to Do
The main problem that continues to hurt the Bulls in this NBA series is getting caught in the Wizards fast-paced game. As a result, Chicago has fallen behind early, and unlike Washington, they are not a team that can often make a run from behind. Instead, they need to slow the pace down and take their time.
Part of the problem with the Bulls’ offensive set is they are settling way too much on jump shots. For a team that is not offensively efficient, they need to get the easiest shots possible. When they went on runs, it stemmed from Gibson going inside to the rim, which is what they need to do more often. The occasional jumper is good, but if the jumpers are not going in, Chicago needs to will themselves into the post.
Another problem with their offense should be blamed on Thibodeau and his rotations. While the starters initially brought the team back within 10 early in the second half, they soon found themselves down 17. Gibson, who had 20 points in the first half, was not even brought into the game until 4:30 remaining in the third, a problem that also occurred during Game Three. The other guys may be the starters, but evidence has shown that the second squad is what has kept them in the game.
The Bulls’ defense was poor during the majority of Game Four. It is inexcusable for the Bulls to allow four guys to score over 15 points. Yes, the Wizards had a low 40 percent game, but they also made 20-25 from the line due to a plethora of sloppy defensive plays. Furthermore, they need to play tighter on the outside, as Washington made 42 percent of their shots from three. While their offense is arguably their largest weakness, what truly did it in for Chicago during Game Four was their ball handling. Careless mistakes destroyed any chance they had, as they turned the ball over an embarrassing 16 times, compared to Washington’s six.
What the Wizards Need to Do
The opening minutes is a prime example of what Washington needs to do — play at their pace. When they play their full court set, it allows their offense to break wide open, which is too much for the Bulls to handle.
Additionally, they also were able to make every shot difficult for the Bulls. However, as the game went on, and the Bulls bench were put into the game, this was not the case. What they need to do to win this NBA series is to continue their pressure on the Bulls’ weak offense. In terms of protecting against the Bulls’ sole offensively efficient player in Gibson, they need to prevent him from getting inside. If they do that, the Bulls simply cannot compete with the Wizards’ offense.
Without a shadow of doubt, the Bulls are in serious trouble, being down 3-1, a position not many teams have been able to come back from in the NBA playoffs. While it is possible, especially with two of the next three games in Chicago, it is going to come down to the Bulls’ mentality and if they can right the ship offensively, which is looking doubtful. However, it is looking like the Wizards will pull this one off in five, as they are just too much for the Bulls to handle.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey