WASHINGTON — Chicago forward Mike Dunleavy stayed hot throughout and Washington big man Nene lost his cool. Combined with poised swingman Jimmy Butler thriving in the clutch, the Bulls won when they needed to most.
Dunleavy scored 35 points and Butler sank the go-ahead 3-pointer with 24.9 seconds left as the Bulls defeated the Wizards 100-97 on Friday night in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
The Wizards hold a 2-1 series lead.
Scoring a career playoff high, Dunleavy made 8 of 10 shots from beyond the 3-point arc and 12 of 18 shots overall.
“He saved us tonight,” Butler said of Dunleavy.
Butler scored 15 points and had his own bout of heroics. His second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter came after Washington erased a sizable deficit for the third straight game and did so after power forward Nene was ejected with 8:28 remaining after a tussle with Butler.
Led by Dunleavy, who scored 21 points in the first two games, Chicago made 12 of 24 3-pointers.
“I feel like I’ve been shooting the ball well, just haven’t had a ton of looks,” the 11-year veteran said. “Hit a couple 3s early, and it just kind of snowballs from there.”
Guard Bradley Beal scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter for the Wizards, who won the opening two games of the series in Chicago. Guard John Wall had 23 points, but the All-Star missed two free throws with the score tied 91-91 and 1:27 remaining.
After each team had an empty possession, Butler drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to put Chicago ahead for good.
The Bulls made six of their seven free throws in the final 12.2 seconds. Forward Taj Gibson split a pair with 3.1 seconds left to give Chicago a 100-97 lead. He missed the second attempt and Wizards forward Trevor Ariza grabbed the rebound but threw the attempted outlet pass out of bounds.
Not usually part of Chicago’s fourth-quarter rotation, Dunleavy received extensive minutes late in Game 3 as the Bulls were outscored 51-34 combined during the fourth quarter of the first two games.
Washington won Game 1 102-93 and rallied for a 101-99 victory in overtime of Game 2 on Tuesday.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, not known for his sense of humor, said of Dunleavy’s extra shots and minutes, “When I saw them going in, I said, ‘You know what, let’s try and keep going to him.'”
Nene scored 10 points for the Wizards after averaging 20.5 in the two victories.
His layup cut Chicago’s lead to 78-76 with 8:28 remaining. As Nene turned upcourt, he and Butler bumped. The two exchanged words and were nose to nose when the Brazilian big man grabbed Butler. After checking replay, officials assigned two technical fouls, leading to an automatic ejection.
Chicago scored the next five points, including a 3-pointer by Butler, who missed all four of his 3-point tries in the first two games. His biggest shot would come later.
“It looked like an MMA move to me,” Dunleavy said of Nene’s tactics against Butler. “It was one of those headlocks. It was great that Jimmy kept his cool.”
Chicago led 85-78 with 6:00 remaining when the Wizards surged back into the lead with a 13-4 run. Dunleavy and Beal exchanged 3-pointers and two Chicago free throws tied the score at 91 with 1:35 left.
The Bulls had their core group for the final minutes. The Wizards did not.
“It hurt,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of Nene’s ejection.
Ariza added, “He is a big part of what we do, but if he’s not on the court we have to find ways to win. We couldn’t do that tonight.”
Nene did not elaborate as to why the situation escalated.
“When you play physical both ways, things get hot,” he said.
Asked if he feared a Game 4 suspension, Nene said, “I don’t know. You know the rule.”
Any ruling from the NBA office would come on Saturday, with Game 4 scheduled for Sunday.
The sold-out crowd roared at their full-throated best for the first NBA playoff game in Washington since 2008. Washington entered halftime leading 51-48 after a 9-0 surge and then scored the opening five points on the third quarter to go up 56-48.
NOTES: Bulls F Carlos Boozer had 14 points. … Bulls C Joakim Noah and a member of the Wizards’ security team had a heated exchange as the teams traded places during the morning shootaround at the Verizon Center. With the Wizards entering the court area, an attempt to have Noah immediately end his drills led to the verbal confrontation. Both coaches were asked about the matter before the game. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau simply said, “Much ado about nothing.” … Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III and former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo were among the many notables in attendance for Game 3. … Game 4 tips at 1 p.m. Sunday in Washington.
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