Sometimes, it's as easy as making shots. Both teams had plenty of open looks in Game 5, but couldn't capitalize when it mattered most. Chicago staged their comeback late in this one, cutting the deficit to as close as three, but Washington continued to make plays to secure their 75-69 victory to advance to the second round of the playoffs. (!!!!)
It started in the frontcourt with Trevor Booker, Marcin Gortat and Nene. All three were instrumental in this one and it's because they controlled the glass. This was not a great shooting night by any means -- the Wizards shot just 40 percent from the field -- but the trio constantly gave the young guards extra possessions by staying active on the glass.
We knew Chicago would rally late. And after a shot clock violation by Washington, Chicago had a golden opportunity to cut it to one and put the pressure on the Wizards to make their free throws. But Jimmy Butler blew the layup under the basket, Beal corralled the rebound, and Chicago had to extend the game by fouling.
Andre Miller needed to make just one free throw to seal the deal. He ended up missing both, but there was Nene securing the offensive rebound and passing it out to Beal. So they went back to the line to ice it. Bradley made the first and missed the second, but Nene once again back-tapped the ball out to John Wall, which sent the Wizards to the second round for the first time since 2005.
We've seen this all season. Defenses will bait teams into as many midrange jumpers as they possibly can, and in the case for the Wizards, they'll take them. It's what Randy Wittman has preached over and over this season: he wants his players taking those open looks with confidence.
Tonight, we saw the good and the bad. Nene was one of the league leaders in shooting percentage from midrange, and really vaulted a shaky offensive attack into a top-20 finish in offensive rating, but Chicago didn't care. They sagged off him, rotated away from him to clog up driving lanes, and when a one-on-one matchup presented itself, he still had plenty of room to shoot.
As he's done all series, he made them pay. He shepherded a dominant third quarter on both ends of the floor to help reclaim control of the game.
But then there was the bad. John Wall found a lot of success getting into the lane and drawing fouls against a defense that heedlessly played him tightly. But the confidence in his jumper was shot. He wasn't getting lift on any of his attempts and unremittingly shot with his arms.
The Bulls kept it close despite their anemic offense, and there was the ominous feeling that the game would come down to Wall making the defense pay. And after a Hinrich three out of a Chicago timeout in the fourth quarter, Wall did just that. After failing to get anything out of a side pick and roll with Beal and Nene, the ball was swung to Wall wide open above the break and he sunk the three.
A few minutes later, with Chicago again threatening, Wall would do it again. Bradley Beal kicked it out to him, Wall pulled it out to reset, took Hinrich off the dribble, got to the right elbow, nothing but net. Lead back to five.
These were the type of plays that Washington had to grind out to earn their spot in the second round. It wasn't pretty, the Wizards offense was somewhat of a disaster outside of Nene, but they found ways to get it done.
Now, they have a chance to rest as they wait on the winner of the Pacers/Hawks series, and could be on the verge of homecourt advantage.
What a win.