The Wizards were missing Nene, but still took game 4 in decisive fashion. How did they do it?
1. Trevor Ariza's Scoring
Put this one in the obvious department. Ariza was brilliant on Sunday afternoon, scoring 30 points on 10/17 shooting and 6/10 from three. His six threes were two more than the entire Chicago team hit. His fifth, at the halftime buzzer was possibly the most crucial one, as it put the Wizards up 15 at the break and was a backbreaker for Chicago. The Wizards were one of the best three point shooting teams in the regular season and had yet to have somebody get really hot from long distance. That changed in a big way with Ariza's performance and it was all the more important that it happened in game 4. You knew that it was going to be tougher sledding attacking the paint without the physical presence of Nene in the lineup, but Ariza's hot shooting made it a non-issue. Ariza is now the number one +/- player in the NBA playoffs at +45.
2. Booker Setting the Tone
You could see the likes of Noah, Boozer and Gibson licking their chops at a Wizards' interior without Nene. Booker was having none of that, as he had two emphatic swats in the first quarter and let Chicago know that it wouldn't be that easy to play in the paint. Yes, Gibson had a huge game, but Washington's front line only let one of Chicago's big men beat them, as Noah and Boozer were virtually non-factors on the offensive end.
3. John Wall's Game Management
This postseason, in games when John Wall scores over 20 the Wizards are 0-1. When he has scored under 20, they're 3-0. Yes this a small sample size and no I'm not suggesting the Wizards will not need some big scoring games from Wall this postseason. The point is simply that the Wizards are winning without him scoring big, and he's still have a big impact on the games. He had the assist on three of Ariza's six threes, and the hockey assist on two more. 15 of Ariza's 17 attempts were uncontested, and that has a lot to do with Wall drawing defenders and getting Ariza the ball in space. He made the right passes, pushed the tempo when it was necessary and protected the ball to the tune of just two turnovers (the team only had six total). He also was very disruptive on the defensive end, helping force the Bulls into 16 turnovers, and turning those into 29 points.
4. The Perimeter Defense
The Wizards take a lot of pride in their defense, and were not happy with the way Mike Dunleavy torched them in game 3. Their perimeter defenders pressured every shot, and forced the Bulls into a rough 1/19 from long distance. Dunleavy's presence was not felt, scoring just six points on 3/8 shooting. The defensive intensity from the get go was impressive, with the Bulls not scoring until the game was about four and a half minutes old, and they only allowed 40 in the first half. Other than Taj Gibson's dominant performance, no Bull was a major factor on the offensive end.
5. Gortat vs. Noah
Yes, Gortat was 1/9 from the field in the fourth quarter. Let's not let that sully what was otherwise a fine effort from the Polish big man. When Nene is in the lineup, the offense runs through him in the post. In game 4, that was Gortat's responsibiilty and he had Noah, the defensive player of the year, checking him. Gortat scored 17 and played the role of distributor from both posts (like Nene so often does), dishing out five assists. That's the same number of assists as Noah, who is often called the best passing big man in the NBA. Gortat actually had more touches in the contest than everybody not named Wall and Noah. He forced Noah into three turnovers (compared to one for himself), and also got himself to the free throw line a game-high eight times against Noah. Noah had just 10 points, and while he pulled down 15 boards, Gortat still managed to grab three on the offensive end. At the end of the game, the plus/minus numbers told the story well, as Gortat was a +24, and Noah a -8. Nene will almost certainly resume his battle with Noah in game 5, but for one night, Gortat got the better of him.