DEERFIELD, Ill. — Drew Gooden knows what it’s like to play for a team that blew a 3-1 lead, so he won’t breathe easy until the Washington Wizards finish off the Chicago Bulls.
They have a chance to do just that on Tuesday night.
Game 5 is in Chicago, and if the Wizards prevail, they’ll move on in the playoffs for just the third time since the 1970s. But as commanding as their lead is, Gooden knows just how quickly it can go away.
The veteran forward was a rookie with Orlando in 2003 when the Magic went up 3-1 on Detroit, only to drop the next three to the Pistons and bow out in the first round.
“We had a chance to put ’em down and finish them and we didn’t — and then they started a dynasty in the Eastern Conference for the next five, six years,” Gooden said Monday. “That was something I always looked back at. We could’ve beat that team, being up 3-1, just one (more) game. Who knows? The Pistons would’ve probably never been the Pistons.”
Detroit went on to make the first of six straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals and won the championship in 2004.
The Wizards just won 44 games with John Wall and Bradley Beal leading the way to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and if they take out Chicago, they’ll do something they’ve rarely done — make a run in the postseason. It’s been mostly one-and-done in the playoffs since losing in the 1979 finals to Seattle.
Two exceptions: They knocked off New Jersey 2-0 in the first round in 1982 and took out Chicago 4-2 in 2005 after dropping the first two games.
Chicago overcame the early loss of Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and the trade of Luol Deng. Now, here are the Bulls once again being tested in a big way.
Only eight teams have won a series after falling behind 3-1, the most recent being the Phoenix Suns in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006.
“I believe we have a resilient group and I believe we’ll find a way,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Bulls have been bogged down by slow starts. They’ve had their difficulties with Wall, Beal and Trevor Ariza not to mention Nene — when he’s been available.
That was one of the most discouraging aspects for the Bulls of Sunday’s 98-89 loss. Even though Nene was serving a suspension for grabbing Jimmy Butler’s head in Game 3, the Wizards still prevailed.
They got a career playoff-high 30 points from Ariza, who’s averaging 18 in the series and has helped contain D.J. Augustin, and once again had the Bulls playing catch-up. The Wizards scored the first 14 points after grabbing early leads in each of the first three games, and they didn’t need any late comebacks after wiping out double-digit deficits in the second half to win each of the first two in this series.
“They’re trying to be a bully to us, come out and punch us in the mouth early,” Augustin said. “We’ve got to come out and jump on them early.”
Washington’s Marcin Gortat is bracing for just that from the Bulls. He expects some changes and more pressure, anything to take the Wizards out of their rhythm early on.
“I believe they’re going to try to come out really hot from the first minute, and we’ve just got to stay tough,” he said.
Toughness carried the Bulls to the second round last year without Rose and allowed them to come together this season despite some big obstacles.
Now, they’re facing another huge hurdle.
“This team’s been up against it for two years,” Thibodeau said.
And the Wizards? Well, they’re not exactly breathing easy.
“I want our guys desperate,” coach Randy Wittman said. “I don’t care about Chicago. I want us to be greedy tomorrow.”
NOTE: The Bulls Mike Dunleavy Jr. practiced Monday after bruising his left thumb in Game 4 and is expected to play on Tuesday.
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