CHICAGO -- The strides the Wizards have made -- tied for best road record in the East, most wins in nine years, first playoff appearance in six and so on -- in advancing to the conference semifinals are astounding. And coach Randy Wittman didn't dice words when he put Tuesday's series clinching win at the Chicago Bulls into perspective.
"Every game went down pretty much like this one did. The first two obviously played here could have gone either way. We lost at home in Game 3 and if we don't jump out to the big lead in Game 4 on Sunday, that one could have gone down to the very end because they cut it to eight with a chance to go down to six," Wittman said after a 72-69 win in Game 5 to secure the best-of-7 series. "In this game we had to grind it out. I am proud of these guys. For a lot of them it is the first time dealing with all this. ... A couple of years ago, with the guys that were here, we never could have won a game like this. Now this team believes in defense. What we do. How we do it. That is how we won this game."
In the lowest-scoring game of the series, the Wizards overcame 40.5% shooting (30 of 74), making just 2 of 8 three-pointers (22.2%) and only six points from the bench. They had 11 blocks, three each from Marcin Gortat and Trevor Booker, only 13 turnovers and kept the Bulls to just 18 points in the paint.
"We will look back on this as this group moves forward. We will get a big jump from this. They know the intensity of how you have to play in the playoffs," said Wittman, who has a first-time postseason backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal that combined for 41 points, eight assists and 12 rebounds and 13 of 16 free throws in the close-out game. "Until you experience that, I think it helps you in the regular season and that is how you jump from 44 wins to 50 wins and getting home-court advantage. Wherever this ends, you hopefully have that growth and experience through the playoffs."
The Wizards won just 29 games a season ago, but the defensive mind-set instilled by Wittman carried over to the postseason and now they're reaping the benefits. And its a perfect fit for the postseason.