Once the Wizards had won three of the first four games against the Bulls, the result of the series had become a foregone conclusion.
The only question in the eyes of most observers was whether Washington would close out the series in Chicago in Game 5, or require a trip back home to seal the deal in a potential Game 6.
But Chicago’s offense answered that question on Tuesday, managing just 69 points on 33.3 percent shooting in a 75-69 defeat that sent the Bulls home for the summer.
As always. the Bulls seemed to simply be unable to score. Joakim Noah put together a stellar effort on the defensive end, grabbing 18 rebounds and blocking three shots in almost 44 minutes of action. But he scored just six points, while no one besides Kirk Hinrich managed to shoot better than 40 percent from the field. Taj Gibson was a monster offensively for the Bulls in Game 4, but shot just 3-of-10 from the field in this one.
Nene returned from his Game 4 suspension to post 20 points on 10-of-17 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds and four assists, and John Wall and Bradley Beal did their usual heavy lifting, combining for 41 of their team’s 75 points.
The Bulls were never a playoff contender given their anemic offense, along with the fact that they play at maximum effort throughout the regular season, and have no room to kick it up to an extra gear once the postseason begins.
The Wizards, meanwhile, are a formidable playoff opponent with Nene in the mix, and with Wall and Beal so potentially devastating on the perimeter. They’ll face the winner of the Hawks-Pacers series, and given Atlanta’s 3-2 lead along with the way Washington would seem to match up, the Wizards would likely be favored to come out of the second round and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night
He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.
“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”
Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.
Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7
Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:
What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?
Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.
Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — 11 of them in the first half. Houston was up 17 in the first quarter and 10 at the half.
However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.
At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.
The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.
Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.
“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”
While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).
It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.
Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.
The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.
In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.
If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.
Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6
Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.
With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).
Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.
Injury update: Andre Iguodala (left lateral leg contusion) is out. Patrick McCaw (lumbar spine contusion) is available to play.
The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.
However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.
And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.