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Defensive adjustments power Wizards' Game 4 victory over Chicago Bulls

Bradley Beal and the Wizards were determined not to let Mike Dunleavy beat them again. From the opening tip, their defensive effort ensured he wouldn't.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON -- When the Bulls' Mike Dunleavy came out in Game 3 and torched the Wizards for a season-high 35 points, Bradley Beal took the outburst personally. That was his man, his responsibility. Like many other Wizards during that game, he didn't get it done.

The idea didn't sit too well with the second-year guard and his teammates.

"It was just a personal grudge that we took because he killed us last game," Beal said. "We wouldn't let that happen again."

The Wizards came out in Game 4 on Sunday with a vengeance, taking a 14-0 lead before Chicago's first basket. Then, they continued attacking with one of the better defensive efforts of the series. Dunleavy, meanwhile, went scoreless in the first half.

"We were locked in. I could tell our focus was back yesterday, even with the news of Nene when it came, of being suspended," coach Randy Wittman said after the game. "We were in tune right from the start."

The Bulls saw the brunt of that early energy with the huge deficit, but as we've seen in these playoffs, even an early double-digit lead is far from safe. Chicago worked its way back into the game, forcing the Wizards to keep their defense clicking for a good 48 minutes. They obliged, especially when it came to the perimeter guys.

After going 8-of-10 from three during a career-game on Friday at Verizon Center, Dunleavy scored just six points in Washington's 98-89 victory on Sunday. One of the few Bulls players who could be considered a weapon offensively, the Wizards aggressively neutralized his outside shooting by keeping close as he curled around screens.

"Yes, there was more of an alertness," Dunleavy said of Washington's defense after the game. "Look, it was tough getting shots all through the night. It has been tough all series."

Those defensive adjustments were arguably the biggest made between Games 3 and 4, and the Bulls struggled to respond. Outside of an unstoppable performance by Taj Gibson, who led all scorers with 32 points on 13-of-16 shooting, the Chicago's offense looked lost most of the game.

"They're a good team. They're professionals over there as well," forward Trevor Ariza said after the game. "They made adjustments last game, we made adjustments this game. Every game shapes differently, so you've just got to find different ways to win."

It's hard enough for the Bulls to score given their lack of ball-handling skill and penetration. By aggressively attacking the passing lanes and open shooters, the Wizards challenged the offense to beat them through brute force. Time and time again, you saw things get physical under the hoop as Chicago tried to jam the ball inside and use its physicality.

The Wizards, despite some foul calls that got the crowd reeling and roaring, dealt with it accordingly. Chicago managed an impressive 13 offensive rebounds in the game, but Washington matched that effort on the other end with 14 of their own. Nene or not, the big men wouldn't get pushed around on this day.

"That kind of sparked a little bit more fire up under us to come out and get this game," Beal said of Nene's absence. "A lot of people probably doubted us when they mentioned that he was out, but we did a great job of coming out and focusing in."

In the end, the Bulls shot 45 percent for the game, but a number of those baskets came on second-chance opportunities with the defense out of position. Chicago's first play rarely worked, and the team committed 16 turnovers for the second straight game as a result.

Now the Wizards are in the driver's seat, with three possible chances to put this series away and move on to the second round. The first opportunity comes Tuesday at United Center, where the team won the first two games in close fashion.

As Ariza said, expect the Bulls to come out with some adjustments, but it'll be up to the Wizards to respond. If the next games are anything like Sunday, the team should be up to the task.