WASHINGTON – We can forgive the basketball world for not noticing what the Washington Wizards pulled off last night.
After all, it was a pretty historic night. We were still toasting Adam Silver for his brilliant handling of an unprecedented situation in his league by sanctioning Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The Clippers responded to that act with a return to form by winning a pivotal Game 5 in their first round series with the Golden State Warriors. As if that weren’t distracting enough, the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder played an NBA-record, fourth-straight overtime game.
So we can surely give people outside of the District a break for not recognizing the Wiz Kids’ statement in Chicago.
The Wizards dispatched the Bulls in five games, something few thought possible. The Wiz hadn’t won a playoff series since 2005, and even the people who picked them to win this series thought it would be a long one. Washington made it known pretty early that wasn’t likely to be the case, winning Games 1 and 2 in Chicago and outplaying Chicago in virtually every game of the series.
This has proven to be a resilient bunch. The Wizards won Game 4 with relative ease, even without the suspended Nene (the MVP of the series). Any time the Bulls made a run, the Wiz had an answer for it.
Were it not for Nene going all Michael Corleone on Jimmy Butler in Game 3, this probably would have been a clean sweep.
What impressed me most about this group was the fact they won this series a bunch of different ways. The Wizards hung more than 100 points on the league’s best defense in the first two games. In the clutch, they came up with more defensive stops than the Bulls did. Taj Gibson may have been the best individual bench player in the series, but I’d take the Wizards bench over Chicago’s any day.
However, none of the games provided a bigger statement than the one made in Game 5. The Wizards won having scored just 75 points, nearly 20 points below their series average, and the third fewest by a team in a series-clinching win in the shot clock era. Yet their defense took the game over, and the Wiz tallied nine offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone to close the Bulls out.
Now the Wizards get a break before heading to the conference semifinals, where they’ll play either the struggling Indiana Pacers or the sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks. The Wiz would be the favorite in either case, with the latter scenario meaning homecourt advantage goes to Washington.
I can’t remember a time when hopes were this high for the Wizards, here or nationally. Only the two-time defending champion Miami Heat have looked better than the Wizards in the playoffs, and everyone seems to believe a meeting between the two teams in the Eastern Conference finals is a given.
Yes, this is just the 2nd playoff series the Wizards have won in the last 32 years. But the optimism surrounding this team seems legit, both for this playoff run and the long-term. If they can keep this nucleus intact — and maybe entice a certain local product to leave Oklahoma City and come home in a couple years — this might be the start of a long party on Fun Street.