With Nene back in their lineup, the Washington Wizards defeated the Chicago Bulls 75-69 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Playoff series to advance to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Nene established himself early on for the Wizards in the closeout game. After his ejection in Game 3 rendered him suspended for Game 4, he returned with a vengeance on Tuesday night. He made his presence felt early for Washington and flexed his muscle throughout the game.
In the midst of a back and forth battle between the two teams, the big Brazilian registered his first of six first-quarter points just a few minutes in. For a couple of teams that have thrived off of their defensive play this season, there wasn’t much of it from Washington and Randy Wittman took a timeout with 4:58 left. After the timeout, the Wizards began to turn up the heat.
Thanks in part to four points off the bench from Trevor Booker, the Wizards closed out the quarter on a 10-5 run to take a 23-15 lead into the second quarter. Washington shot an impressive 55-percent from the floor while the Bulls shot an uninspired 26-percent. The crowd was out of the game and everything looked to be going the Wizards’ way.
In the second quarter, it was an entirely different game. After shooting a low percentage in the first quarter, Chicago couldn’t miss in the second. At one point, Washington found themselves on the wrong end of a 21-9 run. Thanks to a John Wall and-1 in the final minute, the Wizards survived the second quarter surge to be tied with the Bulls 41-41 at the half.
Washington then came out of the gate strong for the third quarter and relied on Nene to carry them. Washington outscored Chicago 20-11 in the period and eight points were from Nene. While the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah tried his best, he was no match for the Wizards’ big man.
As Washington took a 61-52 lead into the fourth quarter, it became clear early on that the Bulls weren’t going away quietly in front of the hometown crowd. Chicago opened up the quarter on a 7-4 run including an and-1 play from Taj Gibson. Just minutes after he made the play, Gibson was removed from the game with an ankle injury.
The Wizards struggled to shoot the ball in the fourth quarter (just 5-of-18), but was able to fall back on heart and hustle to win the game. Booker, Marcin Gortat and Nene were all over the court winning the loose balls and creating second-chance opportunities. The trio combined for eight rebounds and countless hustle plays that won’t show up in the stat sheet.
Possibly the biggest play this season for the Wizards is one of those plays. With just over 16-second remaining, Andre Miller went to the line with an opportunity to make it a two-score game and all but seal the victory. He missed the first, and then following his miss on the second free throw, Nene back-slapped the ball out to Bradley Beal. Beal went on to sink his pair and seal the win.
Nene finished off the contest with 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. Wall dropped a game-high 24 points and added just as many rebounds and assists as Nene. Beal poured in 17 points and Gortat led the Wizards with 13 rebounds. It was a total team effort as each man provided quality minutes.
Washington will now face the winner of the Indiana Pacers-Atlanta Hawks series. Currently, the eighth-seeded Hawks lead the top-seeded Pacers 3-2. On Thursday night, the two will face off in Indiana for Game 6 at 7 PM EST.