It's been a common theme running throughout this season for the Wizards -- they let role players break out for career nights, and game 3 on Friday wasn't any different. Mike Dunleavy Jr broke the Bulls franchise record for most threes in a playoff game with eight, and did so without really breaking a sweat.
And despite this running theme of letting role players loose, Washington's eighth ranked defense this past season has rarely let shooters go off for nights like this. They defend the three very well, allowing teams to shoot just 35 percent from distance during the regular season -- good for fifth in the league -- and they have an excellent scheme to thank for it.
The Wizards have a ton of length on the wings. John Wall has a near 6'10 wingspan, according to Draft Express. Trevor Ariza clocks in at 7'2, and Martell Webster is at 6'11. Hell, their defensive specialist, Garrett Temple, is said to have an enormous wingspan, although the measurements aren't given online. Only Bradley Beal comes up shortish with a 6'8 wingspan, but even that isn't bad.
This gives Randy Wittman plenty to use. He has ball hawks in Ariza and Wall to press up into passing lanes, but he can also take a more conservative approach toward shooters by simply locking-and-trailing or switching.
Last night, Wittman adopted the former strategy, but it burned his defense over and over again. Chicago ran variations of two plays for Dunleavy all night -- a simple down screen at the elbow or a double screen -- and he turned it into 35 points. They would mix in a dribble handoff or a staggered screen up top, but it stemmed from the same action they wanted to run all along.
Chicago ran a big portion of their offense out of the HORNS alignment. They kept both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah at the elbows as screen-setters, with Boozer throwing in some scoring punch for good measure. There wasn't much to their sets other than a pair of down screens for their two wings.
The first action shouldn't put a scare into anyone. Butler came into the postseason shooting just 38 percent off screens and 32 percent in spot-up situations, per Synergy Sports Technology. Washington was more than willing to give it to him if it meant nullifying Noah from the equation.
The problem came on the other side of the floor, where Dunleavy was subsequently coming off his down screen.
Dunleavy breaks free way too easily here. Beal doesn't even make an attempt to fight over the screen, and Trevor Booker fails to show. This is just way too much space here. Maybe the switch is warranted here to at least get Dunleavy out of his rhythm.
It didn't get any easier from there. Perhaps Wittman stuck with Beal a little too long in the first half, allowing Dunleavy to catch fire. But unlike Game 2, where a single man in Ariza shut down D.J. Augustin late, Wittman needed his other teammates to step up. Literally. These weren't pick and roll situations where he could use his length and quickness to veer back into the lane to contest jumpers. Washington simply had no clue how to defend these plays.
This time, Kirk Hinrich will pitch it to Noah, and he'll be the one going over to down screen for Dunleavy.
Marcin Gortat already made the mistake of giving Noah too much room to operate. The threat of a backdoor cut still looms, so he has to stay consistent with pressing Joakim.
Washington played these ultra conservatively. If this was a little earlier in the year, Wall would have jumped out and slipped in between Dunleavy and Noah to disrupt the handoff. Instead, they chose to sit back and watch Dunleavy fire away.
But none of his points were bigger than the three he hit late in the fourth quarter. The Bulls were reeling after Wall stole the ball and raced down the floor for an And-1 and Beal sunk a couple jumpers on back-to-back possessions to regain the lead. But Chicago came right down the floor, ran him off a double screen out of their Hawk set (here's the Wizards' version of Hawk), and he hit it.
There wasn't much Ariza could do there. He came off a little wider than usual, hoping to avoid Boozer and Noah's screen, but it bit him in the end. He lost some ground on Dunleavy, and that's all the room the Bulls' forward needed. The onus falls on Gortat, who's lackluster attempt at showing just wasn't enough. I know he's in a system that wants him to hang back, but there's always exceptions to the rule.
Chicago may not have the brand names or the firepower on offense, but like any team, if they find a weakness, they'll exploit it over and over. Washington just couldn't make the adjustments this time around and have to shore up the finer details before Sunday's Game 4.