WASHINGTON (AP) — The Chicago Bulls failed to score for more than seven minutes.
Not just any ol’ 7:38. Not some stretch in the second quarter that people might vaguely remember. This was the final 3:53 of regulation and the first 3:45 of overtime in Game 2 of a playoff series.
Chicago got to the postseason by being stingy. Yet, so far at least, the Washington Wizards have out-defensed the defense-minded Bulls. And Randy Wittman, who carries an anvil of a win-loss record, has more than held his own in what might have looked like a coaching mismatch against Tom Thibodeau.
“The way they’re starting games off the right way, the way they’re finishing off with defense, getting loose balls and playing the rugged style – that’s kind of our style, when you think about it,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said Wednesday.
The Wizards have come home with a 2-0 lead, with Game 3 set for Friday in Washington. They are the 19th NBA team to win the first two on the road in a seven-game series, and all but three (1969 Warriors, 1994 Suns, 2005 Rockets) went on to advance.
“I wanted them to be greedy,” Wittman said after Tuesday night’s overtime win. “Nothing is guaranteed. We’ve got two wins; you’ve got to get to four. We have to continue to understand why we won these games.”
This is rare territory for Washington. Only once before, in 1975, has the franchise won the first pair in a seven-game series. For that matter, it hadn’t won the opening game of any postseason series since 1982.
Of course, this is also a franchise that has won only two playoff series since the 1970s. Wittman has the worst regular-season record among NBA coaches with at least 400 games, but, for what it’s worth, he’s No. 1 all-time in the playoffs for now with a 2-0 mark.
“I’m an old-school coach. I come from Bobby Knight,” said Wittman, who played for Knight at Indiana. “I believe you have to play defense.”
Playoff neophytes John Wall and Bradley Beal have come through at crucial times. Wall scored the final seven Wizards points of the first half in Game 2 after the Bulls were threatening to take control, and Beal scored the final six of regulation to send the game to overtime.
Then Nene, the invaluable but oft-injured Game 1 star who is held together with everything but duct tape, scored the first six points of the extra period. Game over.
“We get a lot of attention, me and Brad,” Wall said. “Everybody says we’re probably one of the best young backcourts, but we know Nene’s the X-factor to our team. He’s the reason why we go.”
But the most underrated Wizards player all season has been Trevor Ariza, the team’s best defender, and his move might have decided the game.
Chicago’s D.J. Augustin had taken over, scoring practically at will. Washington didn’t have an answer – until Ariza spoke up in the fourth quarter.
“I wanted to guard him,” Ariza said. “He got it going early, and if we wanted to win, we’ve got to slow him down. He was leading their team, and I thought my length would bother him a little bit.”
Sure did. Augustin scored 25 points – but not a single one in the final eight minutes of regulation or in overtime. He was 8 for 14 from the field after three quarters and 2 for 8 the rest of the way.
Naturally, the series isn’t over. Not much would need to be different for the Bulls to be leading 2-0.
“It’s a make-or-miss league,” Thibodeau said. “Beal made two big scramble 3s in the fourth quarter that were basically off loose balls. That’s the difference between winning and losing right there.”
For their part, the Wizards can’t keep missing free throws – 16 for 28 in Game 2 – and it will be interesting to see how the feistiness that produced four technical fouls Tuesday night will affect the games to come.
“It’s great to win two games on the road,” Wall said. “But we’re still the underdogs.”
AP freelance reporter John Jackson in Chicago contributed to this report.
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