The game plan going into Game One for the Washington Wizards was simple; play Wizards basketball.
Washington wanted to set a physical tone on both offense and defense.
That plan was carried out fully by their 12th year big man Nene, who came out and set the tone early for the Wizards, scoring 8 points in the opening period and adding 6 points, all three of his assists in the fourth to finish with 24 points to go along with eight rebounds in 35 minutes of action.
Nene also played physical defense on the Bulls Joakim Noah, not allowing him space on the elbow or perimeter in handling the ball and looking for cutters. Noah still finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, but he was never allowed to get comfortable in making plays as he did time and time again during the regular season on his way to averaging a career-high 5.4 assists.
“He’s one of the top five guys in the MVP (voting) the way he’s played this season,” said John Wall on Noah. “He’s just one of those guys that you don’t like to play against, but you love to have on your team. We knew he would be a great test because when their plays are not working, they throw him the ball at the top of the key and he does a lot of back door passes and dribble handoffs, and we just wanted to put pressure on him and be aggressive with him and not let him get comfortable.”
The plan of limiting Noah’s playmaking – getting in his space when he had the ball and pressuring the high screen and roll he runs with D.J. Augustin – also helped stifle the Bulls offensive flow as a unit as they managed just 13 assists on 34 field goals. They finished 10th in the league in assists during the regular season, averaging 22.7 per game.
“Our defense created our tempo,” Nene said. “We came in here and played hard. We are two similar teams. We did the little things at the end of the game and our tempo was good.”
It's been a rough week for Noah, who lost his long time mentor, Tyrone Green, last week to a sudden heart attack. He missed Friday's practice as the team excused him for a bereavement leave to visit with Green's family in New York. He returned to practice on Saturday and is not speaking on the issue of Green.
While that didn't appear to have any impact on his usual energy and fervor for the game, Noah knows it's just one game and he, including everyone in the Bulls locker room expects a bounce back effort, especially after losing a 13 point lead in the third quarter and managing just six points in the last six minutes of the fourth.
“He played very well tonight," said Noah on Nene. "He was very physical. Got to give credit where credit is due.
“This is the playoffs. We know we definitely have to pick up our intensity. Up 13, we exhaled a little bit, they came back. Bad turnovers. We’ve just got to make our adjustments. This is chess. This isn’t checkers. We’ve just got to find a way. We’re not happy with the result tonight. Disappointing loss at home, in front of our home crowd. But we’ll bounce back.”