One thing came to my mind as I watched the Wizards fourth quarter offense in their 102-93 Game 1 win over the Chicago Bulls: their veteran leadership is paying off. It's not the same shtick we've heard reiterated for years on end. It's something that was evident on the court in a pressure-packed game that stole away home-court advantage. Washington scored 30 points in the final quarter against the top ranked defense in the league, and did so on the backs of Nene, Andre Miller, and Trevor Ariza.
Chicago has one thing they want to accomplish in this series, and they believe it's enough to get them over the top. By corralling John Wall out of the pick and roll, staying home on his shooters and taking away his customary passing lanes, Washington will have to rely on the Wizards mid-range jumper-ing themselves to death.
But by doing so, they're sanctioning off the entire middle of the floor and subsequently giving Washington the spacing needed to make plays off the dribble. This benefits Nene more than anyone. He was challenged to make the defense pay for their lack of attention and that's exactly what he did.
Wall is able to cross over to the middle of the floor out of the side pick and roll, and as he's seen all game, Noah is there hanging back and sealing up his path to the basket. Jimmy Butler, as is the Bulls' custom, is pre-rotating to take away Ariza's corner three. The only option here is to toss it back to Nene.
This is Nene -- who at that point had carved up Chicago to the tune of 22 points on 10-21 shooting -- wide open from midrange. Noah makes an effort to close out in time to at least disrupt the shot, and Kirk Hinrich takes one hard step toward him to slow his motion before retreating back to the corner. But this is largely the type of shot that has killed the Bulls all night.
They don't care, at least not last night. They want Nene beating them. Problem is, Nene was beating them.
And before you knew it, Nene's stellar, simple play had begun to trickle down to the rest of the players.
On this play, Bradley Beal does a tremendous job of keeping his dribble alive as he gets cut off along the baseline by Hinrich. The initial action failed to get him to the basket or draw Noah out of position to find Nene, so he retook the screen, saw the big man jump out, accepted the coverage and quickly made the simple pass to move it. This forced Taj Gibson to help out on the roll man, which sprung Gortat free for the easy bucket under the hoop. Nene's own decisive, unselfish play in the high post helped encourage Beal to make that pass under duress.
This is the type of patience that was on display throughout. The Wizards weren't rolling with the same dribble handoff sequences or deploying Wall in an endless cluster of pick and rolls that normally end with quick shots. The entire offense was predicated on player movement. As soon as the ball was entered into Nene up top, that player would cut through. If there wasn't a pass to be made, they'd loop back out. It seems so simple, but this offense has been anemic at crucial stretches of fourth quarters sometimes this year because they relying so heavily on the defense stepping out of position and biting on John Wall pick and rolls.
The rest of the team worked harder when they didn't have the ball on Sunday. The Wizards had six cuts to the basket in the fourth alone that ended in either a made field goal or a trip to the free throw line, with five of them coming off passes from Nene. They gave the Bulls a taste of their own medicine. For all of the praise Wall gets for kicking the ball out to shooters, those wings too often get complacent with just spotting up.
That's not nearly as realistic when Nene has the ball. You can't station shooters at the three and hope that he breaks down his defender. Wall may not want his teammates cutting in and out of the paint because it could take away from his dribble penetration, but Nene is a different story. You have to run more motion, and last night showed why Nene can be every bit as good a passer as Noah when dialed in.
From the other side
This all goes back to Chicago's game plan. You can't take away everything from an offense, and this might just be something they will have to live with. Unless they dial up the ball pressure on Nene, he will continue to pick them apart from the high post. If they try to shut that off, Washington can counter with more pick and rolls that can get the ball to the hoop or the corners.
Will Nene shoot this well again? Probably not, but by the same token, Wall and Beal won't shoot as poorly as they did either. For at least game one, the Wizards found ways to make the Bulls pay for their defensive gameplan. They will have to continue to do so in Game 2