Once the Chicago Bulls lost Derrick Rose after having him play subpar basketball for 10 games, this organization was once again looking at another wasted season. The Bulls weren't going to have their star with another major knee surgery, and it even led to them trading All-Star Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for multiple draft picks and the honor of waiving Andrew Bynum from the roster. This was going to be different from the Bulls' previous season when they built a roster knowing Rose was unlikely to return any time soon.
Their bench wasn't quite prepared to handle this kind of a heavy load and a mid-season addition of D.J. Augustin off the scrap heap saved what little offense they could muster most nights. They were led by their All-Star Joakim Noah and his defensive leadership. Taj Gibson provided the rest of the effort needed to bring the ruckus on defense most nights and the team got by with what they could.
That's fine if you're able to find a favorable matchup in the East playoffs but the Washington Wizards weren't that. The Wizards were a great blend of a young, dynamic backcourt and a roster full of veterans helping them along the way. In this series, it was evident just how good that balance was for the Wizards.
They seemed comfortable on offense and lit the opposing defense, who happened to be the second best defense in the regular season, up for five games. The Wizards took the first two games on the road and put the Bulls on their heels immediately. By the time they walked away from Game 4 with a 3-1 series lead, the guillotine was simply waiting to fall on the Bulls' season. The series was a valiant effort by the Bulls but they simply didn't have the talent and firepower to keep up with the Wizards.
The Wizards' backcourt. It's a bit of a cop-out to give a co-MVP for the series but the duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal played so well together and against this Bulls' team that it seems like the only option. Wall shot horribly for the series (36.4 percent), but his ability to get into the paint against the Wizards and either get baskets, draw fouls (9.2 free throw attempts per game), or kick out to 3-point shooters was too overwhelming for Chicago possession after possession.
He was complemented beautifully on the court by Beal's ability to make shots and do it when it counted. For the series, Beal averaged 19.8 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.2 rebounds while making 44.0 percent of his shots and 45.5 percent of his 3-pointers. Beal was deadly in clutch situations and a great option to get into the middle of the floor and make plays. He played really good defense with Wall against an overmatched Bulls' backcourt. When these two were on the floor together, the Wizards were a plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions.
Trevor Ariza. Arguably the biggest difference-maker for role players in this series and the playoffs in general so far has been Ariza. He had the best net rating in this series for the Wizards with a plus-13.3 points per 100 possessions, and his defense in shutting down Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler were instrumental to keeping the Bulls' anemic offensive attack down even more. Dunleavy had one big game in Game 3 in which he couldn't be stopped, but the next game Ariza was keyed in on the Duke scorer and kept him in check the rest of the series.
On offense, Ariza had a monster 30-point game in Game 4 that effectively ended the Bulls' season before the Wizards could deliver the final blow in Game 5. He was incredible at spotting up on the perimeter, running the floor, and slashing through the holes in a defense that is supposed to be great.
THE SERIES WAS OVER WHEN...
The Wizards took the first two games from the Bulls in Chicago. We've seen home teams drop the first game and start making everybody wonder if they're going to be upset in the series, only to rally back right away and take care of business. It's just a brief moment of drama that doesn't always come through on delivering the consequences of the slow start. But when the Wizards were able to win the first two games in Chicago, it all but sealed the Bulls' fate.
It's pretty rare we ever see a team drop the first two games at home and come back to win the series and the Wizards made sure the Bulls weren't added to that list. As soon as they went down 0-2, the Bulls' were on borrowed time.
Bradley Beal's clutch scoring efforts. He was great throughout the entire series as we went over above, but when the Wizards needed those clutch shots to take big control over the series at the end of Game 2, Beal was at his best. In fourth quarters in this series, Beal had a true shooting percentage of 61.1 percent.
In Game 2 against the Bulls, he helped the team rally back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter by scoring nine of the team's 11 points in the final six minutes of the game. Considering this was the big swing game of the series, you won't find a bigger moment than the scoring effort Beal had.
LOOKING AHEAD FOR WASHINGTON
The Wizards get to rest a little bit and they'll face the winner of the series between the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are up 3-2 in the series and while they spread the floor well and can make things uncomfortable for a defense, the Wizards match up with them better than they do a Pacers team who may eventually figure things out. The Wizards would own the point guard matchup in the series and would have the personnel to go small if they need to.
But the question exists of whether or not the Pacers would even be psychologically stable enough to handle a Wizards team that keeps gaining valuable experience for their two best players. Nene should be able to handle either frontcourt, Beal can hang with either set of wing players, and John Wall would be the best point guard in either series.
LOOKING AHEAD FOR CHICAGO
Find health and help for Derrick Rose. The decision to take Deng off the team in a trade was a risk that didn't work out, unless they manage to grab a first round pick from the Sacramento Kings in a few seasons. They'll have the option to amnesty Carlos Boozer and use some of the cap relief to find offensive scoring help for Rose if he's able to come back to full health next season. The Bulls will have two top-20 picks in the first round (they receive Charlotte's pick) and lots of options for adding players to round out their core.
The big question for them becomes can they make a serious push and realistically land someone like Carmelo Anthony? Will that give Tom Thibodeau enough offensive firepower to give a great balance to the defensive effort his team doles out every night? And even if they can go get a big superstar to put next to Rose, will Rose be there consistently in the rotation?
For the third straight summer, we'll have questions about the future of Rose and his place on this team and in this league. Until that gets figured out, the Bulls are at his health's mercy for title contention.