Mike Dunleavy scored 35 points, made 8-of-10 3-pointers and repeatedly drew defenders while slashing to the rim.
But his most-gratifying moment might have been cleanly catching an inbound pass with 0.3 seconds remaining.
Dunleavy took one hard dribble, set the ball on the court and ran to a line of high-fiving teammates after ensuring the Bulls escaped Game 3 with a 100-97 win over the Wizards on Friday.
The Bulls led Game 1 by five points with fewer than 10 minutes left and blew it. They led Game 2 by 10 points with fewer than seven minutes left and blew it. They led Game 3 by seven points with fewer than 10 minutes remaining and blew it.
Finally, Jimmy Butler put the Bulls up three with a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining. And then they tried their darnedest to blow that, too.
They let Trevor Ariza get off a 3-point attempt, but he missed it. Mike Dunleavy floated an inbound pass John Wall stole. Butler fouled Wall who sped away from the pack and then made both free throws. Butler lost the ensuing entry pass out of bounds, though he was bailed out by a foul call and made both free throws. Joakim Noah fouled out while intentionally fouling Bradley Beal before the Wizards shooting guards could attempt a game-tying 3-pointer. Beal split from the line, and Garrett Temple fouled D.J. Augustin before the inbound, giving Chicago one free throw and the ball. Augustin made it and then two more to put the Bulls up five with four seconds remaining, a nearly completely secure lead. Then, Tony Snell fouled John Wall on a 3-pointer about 65 feet from the basket. Wall made all three free throws, though he probably should have missed the third. Washington fouled Taj Gibson with three seconds remaining, and he only split at the line, missing the second. The Bulls let Trevor Ariza grab the rebound, and before the Wizards could attempt a desperation heave to tie the game, Ariza threw the ball away with 0.3 seconds remaining. Finally, Chicago inbounded to Dunleavy.
That’s a lot of action in the length of the shot clock and far too much drama for a team that already trailed 2-0 in the series following two home losses. In the end, though, Chicago got exactly what it needed – a victory. No team trailing 3-0 has ever come back to win a series.
On a micro level, the Bulls got what they needed, too.
They needed Joakim Noah to contain Nene, and he did with Butler’s help. They needed D.J. Augustin and Gibson to keep scoring off the bench, and they did with 13 points each. And they needed a starter to rise to the occasion offensively, and Dunleavy most definitely did.
His 35 points more than doubled his previous career playoff high (17 for the Bucks in a loss to the Heat last year). Only LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin have scored so much in a playoff game this year. Dunleavy came only one point shy of his career high, a mark he’s hit five times but never since 2008.
He scored 10 in the first quarter, 6 in the second, 13 in the third and 6 in the fourth – providing effective counters as the host Wizards smelled blood in the water early and continued to thrive in spurts throughout the game.
Wall especially thrived in Washington’s first home playoff game in six years. He was so hot early, even a missed 360-degree layup qualified as a highlight, and he finished with 23 points, seven assists and four steals.
Beal led the Wizards with 25 points, and Ariza (16 points, 11 rebounds and two steals) and Marcin Gortat (13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks) both turned in solid outings.
But Washington’s fifth starter – the one who keyed both wins in Chicago – let the team down. Not only did Nene struggle most of the game, finishing 5-of-15 with five turnovers and no free throws, he lost his cool when he finally got going. After making consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter, Nene picked a needless fight with Butler and then even more needlessly escalated it. The Wizards big man was ejected, and he might face further NBA discipline.
Trying to win with a struggling Nene is tough enough – Washington was outscored by 10 points in the 29 minutes he played – and trying to win with him in the locker room is even tougher. But as a parting shot, Nene’s outburst apparently inspired Butler, who was 0-for-7 on 3-pointers to that point in the series.
On the possession following Nene’s ejection, Butler made a 3, and then he hit another to put Chicago up for good with 24 seconds remained.
It wasn’t easy for the Bulls after that, as Washington kept grasping at straws until, finally, none remained. The young Wizards continue to play loose and spirited basketball, and with a 2-1 series lead, they remain in control.
But as Chicago found, with Dunleavy rolling, it was a little easier – and tonight, just easy enough.