WASHINGTON -- The fans showed up in droves for the Wizards' first home playoff game in six years, but the team couldn't respond with a victory on the court. It's a 2-1 series heading into Game 4 after the Bulls grabbed a hard-fought 100-97 win on Friday night at Verizon Center.
This was, in many ways, a tough one to swallow. The Wizards' crowd was as loud as it's been in years, the team got ahead early and it seemed like the series was on the brink. Instead, a red-hot Mike Dunleavy changed the complexion of the game, then Nene's ejection took away one of Washington's key players.
From there, the Wizards kept battling, impressively taking the lead in the final minutes, but they couldn't finish. Jimmy Butler hit the game-winning three with 24.2 seconds left, then the teams traded free throws as the crowd slowly poured out.
Early on, it seemed like the Wizards would have the advantage in this one. Leading behind a raucous crowd, it felt like the Bulls would need at least wildly productive performance in order to keep up. That of course came from Dunleavy, who finished with a season-high 35 points on 12-of-19 shooting, including 8-of-10 from beyond the arc.
The Bulls forward was really the only offensive weapon for Chicago early on, and his hot shooting throughout the game helped make up for a turnover-ridden performance by his teammates.
And then, midway through the fourth quarter, the Nene ejection happened.
With Dunleavy leading the way and the Bulls' defense giving Washington fits, the Wizards needed to keep their composure down the stretch. Randy Wittman spoke before the game about not getting over-excited and doing something silly, but that's exactly what happened when Nene got tied up with Butler.
The two butted heads after some minor contact, and rather than back away, Nene grabbed Butler around the neck and escalated the situation:
After a review, the referees ejected the Brazilian big man, and now the only question is whether he's ultimately suspended for the incident.
However, the Wizards didn't let the loss of Nene get to them, rallying from a six-point deficit to lead in the final minutes. Unfortunately, they couldn't execute offensively down the stretch, then Butler hit that huge game-winning shot in the final minute.
John Wall and Bradley Beal both played well for Washington in the loss. Wall delivered a number of highlights as part of a 23-point, seven-assist, four-steal effort, while Beal scored 25 on 8-of-18 shooting to lead the team. Not enough of those points came in crunch time, though, and stops didn't come on the other end.
Now the Wizards' series lead is cut to 2-1, and suddenly the idea of an easy trip to the second round seems rather quaint. The Bulls came to play Friday, got a big win, and now it's time to respond. The next game comes Sunday afternoon, and expect Wall and company to come out balling.