It's no secret that the regular-season edition of the 2013-14 Wizards didn't exactly get me pumped. Watching John Wall's development was excellent, but the rest of the team seemed to play at the same even level, never breaking through. Two steps forward, one step back. Too many games were surrendered late. No long winning streaks. That was the mantra.
The more I thought about a series with the Bulls, the more I worried the Wizards would fumble away their chance at winning. Their propensity to take the inefficient shots the defense wants, their inability to execute down the stretch ... these were things I feared would cut their playoff run too short. Nene's return gave me some optimism, but was he really going to be peak Nene?
Boy was I wrong. Instead, the Wizards picked a damn good time to finally come together. All of the problems the Wizards had during the season evaporated with better focus. Wall didn't shoot well, but he defended and ran the team beautifully. Bradley Beal's year-long pick and roll experiment finally paid off against arguably the best pick and roll defense in the league. Nene showed he would indeed be Peak Nene, shutting off Joakim Noah and giving the Wizards offense life during the stretches it didn't have any.
And then there's everyone else. The "pretty good guys," as Grantland's Zach Lowe called them. They were the ones that swung this series. Where would we be without Trevor Ariza's three-point shooting and lockdown defense on any perimeter player? Whenever the Wizards were in trouble defensively, Ariza switched onto D.J. Augustin and shut him down. Trevor's worked hard to improve his game, and he even showed growth in areas he struggled, like his ball-handling and finishing ability around the rim. You could argue he was the most important player in this series.
Credit Marcin Gortat and Trevor Booker, too. The former didn't have a great offensive series, but really battled on the boards, preventing Chicago from asserting its biggest advantage. The latter ... I mean, wow, how about that energy and aggression? I was worried Booker's late-game surge was a fluke against bad teams and that the Bulls would take advantage of his size and lack of shooting. Instead, he provided a dimension the Wizards had previously lacked off the bench. The Wizards don't win this series without both of those players.
In hindsight, those focus problems look like consequences of the regular-season doldrums. When the Wizards needed to lock in, they did in full force.
Now, we're watching a team coming together at the perfect time. Amazing.
Jeff will have more tweets later in Pixels, but this cracked me up.
If you want to watch the Wizards celebrate, here's the video for you. Love the contrast between Wall (genuinely pumped) and Beal (much more subdued).
Ted Leonsis on the series win, via NBA.com:
"Aww, I think it’s more hugging them and loving them, more than lighting a fire," Leonsis told NBA.com Tuesday night. "But we’re in it together. We did set expectations. We said, ‘To those whom much is given, much is expected.’
"Frankly I promised that we would have a long, hard rebuild but there would be a big payoff at the end. And sometimes you have to be bad to get good. … So we deserved this. The good news is that no one in there is overly jubilant. Stay hungry – why not? We’re playing well, a good team, lots of talent. It’s a confident group and they’re not unfocused just by winning one round."
We'll talk more about the next series in the coming days. I think the Wizards are definitely favorites against either Indiana or Atlanta, but neither is a slam-dunk victory. Atlanta's spacing in particular presents problems, especially with the way Paul Millsap is playing.
The series in one GIF right here (via Reddit):