Wiz Finish Bulls in Five Await Round 2 Matchup
John Wall scored 24-points to lead Washington to victory over the Chicago Bulls and win the series. The Wizards will face either Indiana or Atlanta in the second round of NBA playoffs. Alan P. Santos/DC Sports Box file photo
CHICAGO - Saying it before today would have probably gotten you a first-class ticket to St. E’s and a pretty new white jacket.  Now you can say it.  And say it with pride.  Go ahead, the people aren’t going to come for you…
he Washington Wizards are a contender to win the whole damn shebang.

No one who watched them dismantle the heavily favored Chicago Bulls, ending the series in a 75-69 Game 5 victory to claim the franchises’ first playoff series win since Gilbert Arenas’ Wizards dispatched the same Bulls team before John Wall was even contemplating college choices, can pose serious questions as to the validity of the statement.

Washington wasn’t just the more talented team through five games, they were the better one.  Chicago, incessantly praised for their defensive prowess and hustle hard mentality, was beaten at their own game.  Washington proved to be just as capable defensively and perfectly willing to (and effective at) creating opportunities with hustle.

In fact, many of the questions surrounding the Wizards entering into the series were met with emphatic answers as Washington rolled almost unmolested through the series – with the Game 3 loss that came on the heels of a career performance from Mike Dunleavy to give the Bulls a shot – the only blemish to what otherwise would have been a sweep.   Could Washington handle Chicago on the boards?  Could they overcome the presence of the DPOY and figure their way around Thibodeau’s defensive schemes?  Can Wittman coach with Thibs?  Can the young backcourt overcome inexperience to lead the team?

The answer to all: a resounding “Yes.”

It certainly wasn’t pretty or particularly entertaining as the teams engaged in a tough back-and-forth battle to determine who the wanted it more and that’s exactly what it came down to.  Washington’s desire to be the team that came out on top was epitomized during a stretch in the final minutes of the fourth quarter where the team corralled five offensive rebounds to keep their possession alive and stave off the Bulls while clinging to a two-point lead.

Three of those opportunities came on a single possession as Nene tipped errant attempts to push the lead to two possessions back out to the perimeter where they were corralled by Wizards players after a resetting of the shot clock.  Washington burned a key minute of the closing three on that single possession though.  They came up short on the attempt to extend the lead when Beal threw the ball away out of bounds, but came up with a stop on the other end and another key offensive rebound (off a missed Andre Miller free throw) to close out.

John Wall led all scorers with 24 despite not having a terrific shooting night.  Wall and Bradley Beal combined to score 41 of Washington’s 75 points.  Nene, back from his one game suspension, went right back to attacking the league’s DPOY, Joakim Noah, to add another 20.  Trevor Ariza, the Game 4 hero, notched just six points, Marcin Gortat just two.

On most nights, 75 points total and ineffective offense from two starters isn’t going to get the job done.  But it’s enough when you’re locked in defensively and just refuse to be beaten.

The first test is out of the way, and the Wizards have passed with flying colors.  They’re a much more prepared and capable team than anyone was willing to give them credit for two weeks ago and with the playoff road running through cities where they’ll either meet vulnerable teams, or ones who’ve they’ve shown already they can beat, why shouldn’t the sky be the limit when setting the next goal?

Washington awaits the winner of a Hawks-Pacers matchup that has been closer than most imagined.  The 8th seeded Hawks, in fact, carry a 3-2 advantage into Thursday night’s game with a chance to close out the top-seeded Pacers.

"It just shows our continued growth.  We played great basketball in this series and we can only continue to get better and better," Beal told reporters.

Better and Better sounds good.  As a matter of fact, it sounds “contender” good.