What has led the Chicago Bulls to an underwhelming NBA postseason, is their lack of offensive efficiency. All that went out the window during game three, which saw a Chicago Bulls team, get their first win of the series, after a 100-97 victory of the Washington Wizards.
Game three started in a very uncharacteristic fashion, where both teams put in an offensive flurry, with a 30-28 opening. The Bulls, who are known for the worst offense in the NBA, had 68 percent shooting, compared to Washington’s 53 percent. Unfortunately for them, their fouling problems continued, by giving Washington 4-6 from the line, while they did not make any trips to the line in the quarter.
The second quarter told a different tale, with both teams cooling down to a 48-51 score at half time, led by the trio of John Wall (13 points), Bradley Beal (12 points) and Trevor Ariza (11 points).
The second half changed the direction of the game. Dunleavy, who had 16 points in the first half, added another 13, nine of which being three pointers, thus downing the Wizards 24-18 in the quarter.
Play got hostile in the fourth quarter. With the Bulls up, only 78-76 after a pair of two-pointers from Nene, a faceoff ensued between the Washington big man and Butler, resulting in Nene being ejected from the game. Initially, this caused the Wizards to be frazzled without their big man, but they came back at the Bulls. During the final stretch of the game, both teams traded baskets, but in the end,the Bulls slipped away with the victory, in a scenario of too little, too late for Washington.
What the Wizards Need to Do
The Wizards’ key advantage, throughout this NBA series, has been their superiority over the Bulls on offense. Game three changed that statistic, as the Bulls had the superior offense, with 49 percent shooting, compared to Washington’s 43 percent. As a result, despite the bad offensive history of the Bulls, the Wizards cannot afford to take Chicago’s past offensive deficiencies, for granted.
To adjust, Washington needs to toughen up their defense on the Bulls. Dunleavy, in particular, scorched the defense of the Wizards, putting up 35 points on 12-19 shooting, more specifically, 8-10 from three-point land. To counteract this, coach Randy Whittman, needs to change up his matchups. If a player, like Dunleavy, is on a hot streak and Ariza, for instance, is a nonfactor on defense, he needs to switch defenders or double-team Dunleavy.
Additionally, the Wizards need help from their bench. In previous games, players like Trevor Booker, Martell Webster and Andre Miller have contributed significantly, off the bench. However, in game three, when the Wizards’ starters were on the bench, the offense was unproductive, with a 10-point total from the reserves. If compared to the Bulls’ dynamic duo of Gibson and Augustin, who combined for 26 points, the Wizards will go on a cold streak.
Finally, one of the key players in this series has been Nene; however, much like game two, the big man seemed absent until the final period — only this time, it did not last, as he was ejected from the game. This, of course, brings the Wizards to another point. Nene, nor any other player, cannot lose his cool. By doing so, he may, very well have ruined, the chances of the Wizards winning game three. Furthermore, his actions may cause the power forward to get suspended for the next game, which could have disastrous effects to the Wizards’ post play.
What the Bulls Need to Do
The Bulls need to not fall into the trap of Washington’s pace. In the first quarter alone, the Wizards had 30 points, which should not happen. More importantly, the Bulls have been able to limit John Wall’s scoring in this series; however, in the first quarter, he managed to score 11 points, while acquiring 23 by the game’s end.
Another part of the problem, in giving Washington too many points, is that they were giving them free points, as the Wizards were 15-21 from the line and a remarkable 4-6 in the first quarter. The Bulls also had 16 turnovers, seven of which were also in the first quarter. Both of these issues, would have been eradicated, if the Bulls played their half court set and slowed the pace down. While the Bulls did win, a common theme for them, in this series, is letting the Wizards control the game early, and as history has proved, the Bulls are not a come-from-behind team.
Unlike the previous games though, the Bulls had a fantastic offensive set. Ball movement helped jump shooters, like Boozer and Dunleavy. Additionally, Thibodeau did an excellent job at subbing his guys, at the opportune time, that resulted in their offensive run continuing, when putting Augustin and Gibson.
Despite being the worst offensive team, the Bulls are not a bad team from the line, where they averaged almost 78 percent for the season. However, in game three, it was their free-throw shooting that almost lost them the game, as they were 20-30 at the strike. Had they only made, even a few baskets more, the Bulls would not have risked losing their lead at the end.
While it is great that different players, stepped up to the plate in game three, their anchor, Joakim Noah, has been absent. He is contributing to their rebounds, but the offensive sets are supposed to go through him. In fact, it is his offensive skills, both in terms of scoring and playmaking, that made the Bulls have success in the final leg of the season. In game three, he only had six points and four assists though. Needless to say, he needs to find his game, if they are to win this series.
While it seemed the Wizards had the series won, game three proved it was far from over. The Bulls had an excellent offensive game, but the question is: Are they capable of this, the remainder of the series? If they are, there is potential for Chicago to come back, from behind, and steal home court back; however, if their offense clanks, like it did the first two games, they may be seeing an early NBA postseason exit.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey