CHICAGO -- In Game 1, Joakim Noah didn't look like the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, an award he was given Wednesday at United Center. That's where Nene, the Wizards' versatile big man, had his way with his Chicago Bulls counterpart.
Nene played 35 minutes -- his most since Feb. 11 -- after a game-high 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists. It was his first start for the Wizards since Feb. 23, when he went down with a left knee ligament strain.
"I’m tired. I’m sore today," said Nene, as he strapped on his knee brace. "But tomorrow’s another day. We’ll see."
In other words, that minutes restriction he's on will be relative to how well he's playing.
Nene bullied the smaller Noah, pinned him on his shoulder and was able to get his shot off at will in high percentage areas. Then the Bulls allowed Nene to face up from mid-range where he made open shots. On the other end, Nene made key plays down the stretch to smother the Bulls' offense. He stripped Noah at the top of the key and went coast-to-coast for a layup to cut the deficit to 79-78. He stripped Taj Gibson twice on the same possession to disrupt their offense with less than a minute left. With Nene in the lineup, the Wizards are 3-0 vs. the Bulls this season.
Then, of course, its the problems Nene caused when the Wizards were on offense.
"With Nene back it gives us another option down there. We did a good job of throwing him in," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "We didn’t always score but it opens up things on the perimeter when you have to be concerned about somebody down on the box."
Nene picked up his fifth foul with 4:03 left with the WIzards ahead 88-87. Marcin Gortat suggested that they switch. Nene literally pushed him away. Nene was staying on Gibson until fouling out with 11 seconds remaining with the outcome in hand in the 102-93 victory.
"I told him, whatever's going to happen, do not jump. Do not foul. As a matter of fact move away because people are just going to bounce off you," Gortat said."I told him he could guard Noah where he's running on the outside and I can take (Carlos) Boozer or Taj Gibson inside. That's what we did. Nene was just outstanding."
It was such a comprehensive domination of the Bulls, and Noah, that undoubtedly coach Tom Thibodeau will change their coverage on Nene.
"When you have a similar teams you start thinking better what you’re supposed to do," Nene said. "That little detail, that’s what I think was the difference. Two teams who can play in the post, who can shoot outside, have defenders. We made a lot of shots around the basket that gave us confidence. Gave us that little space."
"Playoffs, especially after the first game, it’s about detail. It’s about planning. They’ll bring a new plan. We need to stay on our plan. Maintain our aggressiveness."