It took only three defensive possessions for the Washington Wizards to erase a Game 3 performance that caused Randy Wittman to lament that they had more defensive breakdowns than in the first two games of the series combined. On that third critical possession, the Bulls got the ball to their MVP candidate in the high post early in the possession and ran the man that killed the Wizards in Game 3 off a series of screens.
This time, though, the 20-year-old Wizards shooting guard knew what was coming. He stepped in the passing lane so early that you almost wonder if he hacked the MVP candidate's brain. A strip, a steal and a breakaway.
Bradley Beal's play to leave Mike Dunleavy and stop Joakim Noah merely gave the Wizards a 4-0 lead in the first minute, but it set a tone. Attention to detail would not be a problem in this game like it was on Friday. A play later, Beal overplayed Dunleavy, prevented a backdoor cut and forced a wild jumper. John Wall took the outlet pass, pushed the ball up the floor and found an open Trevor Ariza for a 7-0 lead.
Seven more points followed before a Bulls score, and the Wizards never trailed again. Their 98-89 Game 4 victory without Nene puts them up 3-1 in the series and dramatically affirms that they are the better team, even with a shakier ending than we may have hoped. Only a series collapse stands between the Wizards and the second round.
Ariza had the big scoring performance, but this win was about the two guards. Forget their statistics. They showed poise beyond their years. Both set the ton with aggressive man-to-man defense, fighting over screens, anticipating plays and coming up with big steals to swing momentum. Both were patient and under control offensively, with a combined two turnovers between them.
And when big plays were needed, they were the ones to provide them. They were the ones that spearheaded a run to put Washington back up double digits when the Bulls cut it down midway through the second quarter. They, specifically Wall, were the ones that put the Bulls away for good late. The max man accepted the Bulls' defense, crossed over right to left to get into the lane, then dumped the ball off beautifully to Marcin Gortat for the dagger lay-in.
Subtle things, really. Beal's ability to dump the ball off on pick and rolls. Wall's eye manipulation to create open shots on those side pick and rolls. Beal's ability to step up and fight over all those screens to Dunleavy. Wall's knack for jumping the Bulls' passing lanes and creating offense out of nothing. It was a special, special performance from those two guys. Did I mention they're 23 and 20, respectively?
This was the turning point we've all waited to see with these two guards. Both showed major flashes in the first two games, but they were propped up by big performances from the Wizards' veterans. Today, it was the other way around. House of Guards set the tone and everyone else followed.
One more win. One more win.