All of Tom Thibodeau’s pre-series concerns about the Wizards came to fruition Sunday night at the United Center.
Nene played like an All-Star. Trevor Ariza hit big shots. Marcin Gortat did his damage inside. Andre Miller proved ageless.
And the Bulls’ home-court advantage in this best-of-seven, first-round playoff series went poof.
On a night their star backcourt combined to miss 18 of 25 shots, the Wizards still shot 48.6 percent and outrebounded the Bulls in a 102-93 victory. Game 2 is Tuesday night.
Since the 1946-47 season, the team that has prevailed in the opener of a seven-game series has prevailed 350 of 453 times. That’s 77.3 percent, which seems only slightly higher than the Wizards’ shooting percentage.
Those troubling defensive signs down the stretch of the regular season didn’t disappear come playoff time.
“Our defense wasn’t very good,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to adjust to how the game is being called. We can’t allow it to take away from our aggressiveness. We have to play hard without fouling. We have to be disciplined.
“Offensively, if we feel like a call isn’t going our way, we can’t let that take away from getting back and playing great defense. We’re capable of playing a lot better.”
Indeed, the Bulls blew a 13-point, early-third-quarter lead and then went cold at an inopportune time, scoring just six points in the final 5 minutes, 56 seconds. The Wizards won the fourth quarter 30-18.
The Bulls’ offense doesn’t score much, but it does typically feature good ball and player movement and high assist totals. Add their meager 13 assists to the list of troubling signs, then, especially since the Bulls were 0-11 when posting 13 or fewer during the regular season.
“Our movement wasn’t as good as it normally is,” Thibodeau said. “We have to make quick decisions. We have to move without the ball, screen better, pass on target. I thought we had some drives where we have to finish stronger. We have to go through them. Flipping the ball up, that’s not going to get it done in the playoffs. You’ve got to take it strong.”
Tied at 88-88 late, Gortat and Nene sandwiched baskets around a miss by Taj Gibson. Joakim Noah tipped home a D.J. Augustin miss. But Gortat sank two free throws, Nene blocked a Kirk Hinrich jumper and Gortat put back a miss by John Wall for a 96-90 lead and ballgame.
Nene announced his return to starting with a rim-rattling dunk on the opening possession and finished with 24 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 11 seconds left. Gortat added 15 points and 13 rebounds.
All five Wizards starters reached double figures, with Wall contributing six rebounds and six assists. But Miller, 38, scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth, keeping Wall on the bench and exploiting D.J. Augustin, who also struggled offensively at 3-for-15.
Augustin did knock down all 10 free throws, tying Kirk Hinrich atop seven Bulls in double figures with 16 points.
“Every time we had a chance to put them away, Andre Miller stepped up,” Taj Gibson said. “You could say fatigue. We got lackadaisical. And they capitalized on it.”
The Wizards shot 35 free throws, with the Bulls exceeding the penalty with a whopping 9:32 left in the second quarter.
“We’ll be fine,” Jimmy Butler said. “It’s one game. It’s a long series. We can’t put our heads down.”