Trevor Ariza focuses, lifts short-handed Wizards in Game 4

24 Comments

Trevor Ariza didn’t celebrate his 3-pointer that put the Washington Wizards up 14-0. He didn’t motion to the crowd like his teammates when the Chicago Bulls took their second timeout in the game’s first four minutes. He didn’t reciprocate the pats on the back as he returned to the bench.

But when he cut baseline for a dunk that put Washington up 12 with a minute left, Ariza – the only Wizard with a championship ring – let loose.

He twisted off the rim, slapping the air on his way down. When he landed, he pumped his fists, jumped to shoulder bump Bradley Beal, yelled as he returned to the sideline, jumped to bump Martell Webster and gave high fives all around.

D.C.’s game-long celebration finally got Ariza’s stamp of approval.

Ariza scored a playoff career-high 30 points, leading the Wizards to a 98-89 Game 4 win over the Bulls on Sunday. By taking a 3-1 series lead, the Wizards have already won more playoff games than any season since 2005, and they’re one win – Game 5 is Tuesday in Chicago – from their first series victory since the same year.

With Nene suspended, Ariza elevated his game highest, but every Washington starter stepped up.

John Wall had 15 points, 10 assists and two steals. Bradley Beal scored 18 points on 13 shots. Not only did Ariza make 6-of-10 3-pointers, he contributed by more than just scoring, grabbing eight rebounds and two steals. Marcin Gortat posted 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. And Nene’s replacement, Trevor Booker, added eight points, nine rebounds and five blocks.

That unit – Wall, Beal, Ariza, Booker and Gortat – has now outscored the Bulls, 79-48, in 32 minutes this series .

The Wizards have found plenty of winning combinations, and that’s why they’re in control.

But the Bulls have a monster advantage, too. Tom Thibodeau just isn’t milking it enough.

Taj Gibson continues to thrash Washington, scoring 32 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Chicago just couldn’t score without him.

  • Gibson: 13-for-16  (81 percent)
  • Other Bulls: 22-for-62 (35 percent)

When Gibson played, Chicago’s offensive rating was 114.8. When he sat, it was 74.2.

Somehow, Thibodeau still played Gibson less than every Chicago starter besides Carlos Boozer (who nearly fouled out with five fouls in the third quarter alone).

Not even Mike Dunleavy, who scored 35 points in Game 3, helped. He staggered to the bench in the fourth quarter with a hand injury and didn’t return although he was medically cleared, finishing with six points on eight shots.

The Bulls will return to Chicago for Game 5, and maybe that gives them a jolt.

But Nene returns too, and Gibson won’t get as many opportunities to beat up Washington’s backup bigs, Drew Gooden and Al Harrington, as he had today.

What might have been the Bulls’ last chance to even this series fell apart nearly as quickly as it began. Eventually, even the focused Ariza had to acknowledge it.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

Associated Press
1 Comment

LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.