WASHINGTON — With forward Trevor Ariza sizzling and the owner wearing the jersey of a certain suspended Brazilian big man, no Nene meant no problem for the Washington Wizards.
Ariza scored a career playoff-high 30 points with six 3-pointers and guard Bradley Beal had 18 points as the Washington Wizards defeated the Chicago Bulls 98-89 on Sunday afternoon to take a 3-1 series lead.
Center Marcin Gortat added 17 points and guard John Wall had 15 points for the Wizards, who scored the game’s first 14 points, led 55-40 at halftime and by 23 in the fourth quarter. Washington played without Nene after the NBA suspended the power forward for one game following a tussle with Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler during the fourth quarter of Game 3.
“I think we’re a smart enough group to understand that when one of your pieces go down you have to find ways and will ways to win,” said Ariza, who had eight rebounds and made 10 of 17 shots from the field including 6 of 10 from beyond the arc. “Tonight was my night to take on the scoring load.”
Beal’s 3-pointer opening the fourth quarter gave Washington the largest lead for either team in the series at 85-62.
Taj Gibson set a career-playoff high with 32 points for the Bulls. The reserve forward made his first nine attempts from the field and finished 13 of 16 while his teammates went 22 of 62. Butler had 16 points and center Joakim Noah had 10 points and 15 rebounds.
Wall also had 10 assists and spearheaded Washington’s up-tempo designs in front of the raucous and towel waving sellout crowd of 20,356. The Wizards finished with a 16-2 advantage in fast-break points and had 22 assists with only six turnovers.
Chicago committed 16 turnovers, leading to 29 points for Washington.
The Bulls pulled closer at 91-83 on Gibson’s jumper with 2:03 remaining, but the Wizards countered with consecutive dunks by Gortat and Ariza.
“The games are 15-round slugfests, but for it to go that far you really have to have a good start,” Gibson said. “They got the crowd into it really early and we were on our heels from the jump.”
Chicago won the two previous matchups in Washington, including Game 3’s 100-97 victory on Friday.
Seated prominently next to the Wizards’ bench was 57-year-old team owner Ted Leonsis, who donned a Nene 42-jersey throughout and high-fived fans in the final seconds.
“I thought it was pretty hilarious that Ted had Nene’s jersey on,” Beal said.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman played coy about his boss’ attire.
“I didn’t (notice). Was he there tonight?” he said.
Nene not being in the building offered the Bulls hope. Chicago routed the Nene-less Wizards in Washington on April 5. This time they “didn’t take advantage,” of his absence, Gibson said.
Forward Trevor Booker replaced Nene in the starting lineup. He had eight points, a team-high nine rebounds and three blocks before fouling out.
Nene averaged 20.5 points in the first two games of the series, both won by Washington in Chicago.
The Wizards also went 12-9 when Nene missed games with a knee injury after the All-Star break. That experience turned out to be a “blessing in disguise,” Wittman said. The team learned of the suspension on Saturday.
“I saw our guys bond together like, ‘That’s ok, big fella’s not going to be here, but that’s OK,'” Wittman said.
Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy, who scored 35 points in Game 3, went scoreless in the first half and finished with six points. He suffered a jammed left thumb in the second half.
Foul trouble hampered any comeback hopes for the Bulls in the third quarter. Forward Carlos Boozer picked up five in the period, including a flagrant. The Wizards made 20 of 25 free throws.
Washington opened with a football-like score lead and pushed the margin to 15 on Ariza’s third 3-pointer in the opening six minutes. He closed the first half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that sent the Wizards into halftime leading 55-40 and then opened the third with another shot from beyond the arc.
Gibson made all eight of his field-goal attempts before halftime. The rest of the Bulls went 7 of 32.
The series returns to Chicago for Game 5 on Tuesday.
“To win a playoff series, it takes four (wins),” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We’re going to concentrate on getting two and going from there.”
NOTES: F Trevor Ariza’s six 3-pointers matched a franchise record held by Gilbert Arenas. … F Trevor Booker and F Taj Gibson received simultaneous technical fouls in the second quarter with Booker on the bench. Players on both teams have combined for 10 technical fouls in the series. … The home playoff victory was the Wizards’ first since April 24, 2008, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. … Members of both teams were asked for comment pregame about the racist comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. “Whether it’s NBA basketball or any walks of society, there is no place for that,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.
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