CHICAGO (AP) — John Wall finished with 24 points, Nene scored 20, and the Washington Wizards beat the Chicago Bulls 75-69 on Tuesday night to clinch their first-round series in five games.
Bradley Beal scored 17 points, and the fifth-seeded Wizards advanced in the postseason for just the third time since the 1970s. They will meet Indiana or Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It’s a huge step for a franchise that hadn’t been to the postseason since 2008, but with Wall and Beal leading the way, they won 44 games during the regular season.
The Wizards turned a halftime tie into a nine-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and hung on down the stretch.
Chicago’s comeback chances took a big hit early in the final quarter when Taj Gibson crumbled to the court clutching his left ankle after he tried to block a layup by Wall with the Wizards up by six points. He had to be helped off the court and did not return.
The Bulls cut it to 70-67 on a jumper by Carlos Boozer with 3:32 left. Wall then poked the ball away from Boozer and nailed a jumper at the shot-clock buzzer. Chicago hit two free throws with 2:18 remaining to cut it back down to three, but the Wizards grabbed three offensive rebounds while whittling more than a minute off the clock before Beal threw the ball away with a minute left in the game.
Boozer missed on a drive, but the Bulls had another chance after a shot-clock violation by Washington with 22.4 seconds left. Chicago’s Jimmy Butler missed on a layup off the inbounds, and the Wizards caught a break after Andre Miller missed two free throws.
Beal tracked down the loose ball and hit the first free throw to make it 73-69 with 14.6 seconds left before missing the second. But again, the Wizards got the rebound. This time it was Nene, and that led to two free throws by Wall with 7.8 seconds remaining.
Wall and Nene, back from a one-game suspension for grabbing Butler’s head, both had seven rebounds. Marcin Gortat scored just two points but grabbed 13 boards.
For the Bulls, a season that unfolded in ways they never envisioned is finally over. They expected to challenge Miami for supremacy in the Eastern Conference with Derrick Rose back after sitting out last season, only to lose their star to another season-ending knee injury. As if that wasn’t enough, they traded away one of their top remaining players in Luol Deng yet somehow squeezed out 48 victories. No team in the East won more games after New Year’s Eve, either, but the Wizards were too much.
Butler and Kirk Hinrich scored 16 points each and Gibson had 12. Joakim Noah added 18 rebounds and seven assists. Boozer, a candidate to be amnestied, added 10 points and nine rebounds in what might have been his final appearance for Chicago.
Hinrich’s 3-pointer gave Chicago a 46-45 lead with 9:02 left in the third. But the Bulls managed just six points the rest of the quarter – a 20-foot jumper by Noah, two free throws by Boozer and a bank shot by Butler with 2:16 left.
Beal, who scored eight points in the third quarter, answered by banking in an 18-footer and Wall added a free throw in the closing minute of the period to make it 61-52.
NOTES: Nene declined comment about his suspension at the Wizards’ shootaround, saying, “I don’t want to talk about that.” … Former Bull Ben Gordon was on hand, and Bryan Bickell of the Blackhawks was cheered when he was shown in the second quarter.