Pitting two of the top defensive teams in the NBA, it is not a surprise that the first game between the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards resulted in a physical, tight game. The Wizards surprised the world though, by taking the first game 102-93 with a well-executed, offensive game.
From the get-go, the Wizards came storming through the gate with an efficient offense. Surprisingly, the Bulls did not seem prepared and were often slow to react on the defensive end, letting Washington get whatever shots they wanted.
Nene, in his first start in over a month in the NBA, insisted he only play 20 minutes. However, that did not exactly go to plan as he played 35 minutes, thanks to a 24-point game in addition to eight rebounds, not to mention 14 of those points occurred in the first half.
The Bulls did fire back in the second quarter, however, with an offensive game, emphasized by Taj Gibson’s monster slam, which led to a 54-48 first half lead.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, the second half told a different story. The game sped up at the beginning of the third, which played to Washington’s favor, which led to stellar offensive play all around by Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal. Despite that, the Bulls hung on to the lead, until they squandered it in the final minutes of the fourth, led by reserve guard Andre Miller and the game’s MVP Nene.
What the Bulls Need to Do
The Bulls are arguably the worst offensive team in the entire NBA, and game one showed this weakness, embarrassingly. They are capable of putting in offensive runs from guys like Carolos Boozer (arguably the best offensive player) and their efficient second line, including Taj Gibson and DJ Augustin.
However, their key problem on offense is they need to take their time. Many times throughout the game, the Bulls would score a big bucket and as such, they would get carried away, which resulted in rushed plays on the offensive end. Ball movement is the key, and while Washington is a solid defensive team, Chicago needs to execute solid ball movement to get open looks. In game one, Chicago simply did not get many open looks.
In fact, it could be argued that the only reason the Bulls were in the game, were due to the fact that they were given plenty of opportunities at the free throw line. In the first half, when the Bulls were on their run, they were 14-17 from the line, but they only managed six for nine in the second. Simply put, when the Bulls are not hitting from the floor, they need those free throws to get them over the top.
One thing the Bulls do well though is rebounding; they need to find a way to win the battle of the boards, if they are to win the series. In the first half, the Bulls beat the Wizards on the boards and more specifically, offensively, nine to five. This is where the Bulls get their scoring. Their scrappy play of getting put backs is one of their best qualities and as a result, oftentimes, frustrates their opponents. Unfortunately, they came short, with the Wizards winning the rebounds 45-39.
Most importantly though, the Bulls need to get their leader back. While Noah had a decent second half, he was oftentimes missing in the first. 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists are not terrible, but this is the playoffs. In order for Chicago to win the series, Noah has to take control of the game and not be missing.
What the Wizards Need to Do
For the Wizards to pull off another upset, they need to expose Chicago for their weaknesses, i.e. their offensive inefficiencies. One of the biggest problems the Wizards had, is they gave the Bulls too many free throws, particularly in the first half. On the other end of the floor though, the Wizards need to make their free throws. It did not look good in the beginning, when Washington only made 12-21. However, fortunately they got back in the game, and finished 26-35 from the free throw line.
One of the Bulls’ best qualities is their offensive rebounds, which leads to many second chance points. As such, the Bulls had seven more shots as the Wizards. To counteract this, the Wizards need to use their muscle, to out-rebound them and keep Chicago’s rebounding at a minimum.
Nene had a fantastic game of 24 points and eight rebounds. Having said that, he will most likely not get that kind of game again . Nene recently coming off an injury, so Washington does not want to put him at risk. Instead, the Wizards need to get more out of their leader, John Wall. Sure, he had 16 points, but he also was a dismal 4-14 from the field, and only managed six assists. One of the advantages the Wizards have in the NBA, is their inside-outside game, and without Wall playing well, they are going to struggle in future games, without being able to put their key strategy to use.
In game one, the Wizards exposed the Bulls for what they are — a bad offensive team. In order for the Bulls to take back the series, they need to play at their pace and find a way to stop the behemoths of Nene and Gortat. Regardless, game two, may very well be the deciding factor in this NBA series, before the matchup even shifts to Washington.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey