CHICAGO — Nene started thinking about how it would all unfold in the middle of the night. No way could he have scripted it any better than this.
Nene dominated with 24 points, Trevor Ariza scored 18, and the Washington Wizards rallied from 13 down to beat the Chicago Bulls 102-93 in their playoff opener on Sunday night.
John Wall scored 16 in his postseason debut. Marcin Gortat added 15 points and 13 rebounds, and the fifth-seeded Wizards pulled out the victory even though they looked like they were ready to be blown out.
They cut a 13-point deficit to one in the third and trailed by three going into the fourth, before outscoring Chicago 18-6 over the final six minutes to come out on top in their first playoff appearance since 2008.
“We had a team dinner, and after that, in the middle of the night I started thinking about what I’m going to do,” Nene said. “How I’m going to defend. … Things like that. It’s a good feeling.”
Game 2 is Tuesday in Chicago.
Nene was locked in from the opening tip, dunking on the game’s first possession and scoring eight points in the first six minutes, and the Wizards turned it on down the stretch.
Gortat’s layup started the decisive run, and Ariza gave the Wizards an 88-87 lead when he hit a pair of free throws with 4:17 remaining. Jimmy Butler tied it for Chicago with one of his own, but a layup by Gortat and basket by Nene made it 92-88, and Washington hung on after Chicago’s Joakim Noah cut it to two on a tip-in with 2:11 left.
Gortat hit two free throws and added a jumper with 34 seconds left to make it a six-point game, and the Wizards took the early lead in the best-of-seven series.
Washington shot 49 percent and outrebounded Chicago 45-39 with Nene setting the tone inside. He hit 11 of 17 shots and grabbed eight rebounds.
Andre Miller came on strong down the stretch, scoring eight of his 10 points in the fourth, and the Wizards pulled this one out even though Wall and Bradley Beal (13 points) combined to shoot just 7 of 25.
Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin each scored 16 points, and Butler had 15. But after posting more wins since Jan. 1 than any other Eastern Conference team, the Bulls find themselves in a hole.
“There are a lot of things you can do to help your team win. We’re capable of playing a lot better,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Bulls led by 13 early in the third and were up 69-57 midway through the quarter when the Wizards went on a 13-2 run to make it a one-point game.
Ariza’s 3-pointer cut it to 71-70 with 3:32 remaining. Noah answered with a layup and Taj Gibson hit two free throws to make it a five-point game, but a basket by Miller made it a three-point game going into the fourth.
“Up 13, we exhaled and they came back,” Noah said. “Bad turnovers. They got some easy scores. We got to make our adjustments. This is chess. It isn’t checkers.”
The collapse was surprising given the resolve the Bulls showed all season. They could have easily packed it in after losing Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and trading away Luol Deng. Instead, they dug in, and they were in good shape in this one before everything came apart.
The Bulls overcame a 14-point first half by Nene and took a 54-48 lead to the locker room after a strong second quarter.
Augustin drove for a three-point play with just over a minute left to finish the first-half scoring and start a 13-3 run that stretched into the third quarter and made it 64-51.
“You have to stay in the moment,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “There will be times in the playoffs where we have to survive and stay in the game with six or seven straight possessions and not score. Both teams can do that. Who is going to stay in the fight when you do that? We did. We had a period where they outplayed us, no question about it. We had to get that back, and in the second half, I thought we did.”
NOTES: Wall on playing in the postseason: “It’s very intense. I’ve watched it going to a couple of games, but it’s a lot different when you’re on the court. There was one segment when I couldn’t really breathe when I was going up and down the court.” … Augustin hit just 3 of 15 shots but made all 10 free throws. Chicago was 20 of 26 at the foul line, while Washington was 26 of 35.
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