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.