John Wall will experience his first series closeout game Tuesday in Chicago with the Wizards owning a 3-1 series lead over the Bulls. Drew Gooden is all too familiar with the scenario, painfully so.
Exactly 11 years ago Monday Gooden and the Orlando Magic were one day removed from taking a 3-1 series over the Detroit Pistons. Two of the final three games were on the road. Still, all the Tracy McGrady-led Magic needed was one single victory and a place in the second of the NBA Playoffs would be theirs.
It never happened. Detroit roared back with three straight wins and advanced to not only the second round, but also the Eastern Conference finals. That started a run of six straight years where the Pistons reached at least the conference finals. Detroit won the 2004 NBA title.
"We had a chance to put [the Pistons] down and finish them and we didn't," Gooden said on Monday following the Wizards final practice at the Verizon Center before heading to Chicago. "They ended up starting a dynasty in the Eastern Conference for the next 5-6 years."
So, yes, 3-1 leads can disappear. The closeout challenge stems in part from pure familiarity. The Wizards controlled Game 4 en route to a 98-89 victory, but the two sides essentially played even during the first three games.
Washington took games 1 and 2 in Chicago thanks to fourth quarter rallies. The Bulls battled back in Game 3 behind Mike Dunleavy's 3-pointer shooting while taking advantage of a Nene-less Wizards' squad for much of the fourth quarter.
"Every game in a series is tougher than the last, it just is," Wittman said. "It will be five games in a row playing the same team. It becomes harder and harder. You know each other better. You know what the other team is running better. It just becomes whose will is going to hold out. We've reached the point of we need one more and it's going to be the hardest one."
Even though Wall doesn't have the experience to draw on seeing as this year marks his postseason debut, he's plan on how to run past the Bulls one more time is logical enough: Stay the course.
"I think just play the way we've been playing," said Wall, who is averaging 17.5 points, 7.5 assists and 2.8 steals in the series. The All-Star point guard directed Washington's fast break to 16 points on Sunday while the more methodical Bulls had only two.
"Game 3 was the only game I feel like we didn't play our defense the way we played [in the wins]," Wall continued. "When you're playing defense and putting pace into the game, you give yourself a chance to win."
Another area the Wizards hope to replicate is with their strong starts. Washington jumped ahead of the Bulls 14-0 and 17-2 in Sunday's win. That initial push helped put Chicago on its heels. The loss helped truly put the Windy City squad into pure desperation mode. That's why Gooden knows taking care of business in Game 5 is the ultimate plan.
"It is tough, especially when you don't have homecourt advantage. We know that this is a must win for us. We know the circumstances if we don't get this win," said Gooden who received 26 minutes in Game 4 with Nene suspended. "That first quarter, the first two minutes is going to be interesting to watch to see what they do."