WASHINGTON -- The man who saved the Chicago Bulls' season, Mike Dunleavy, is an unlikely hero, not even trusted to be on the floor in the fourth quarter, when his coach values defense over shooting. He'd never had a night like this in his natural-born life. You go to Las Vegas on Dunleavy getting 35 in a road playoff game. His playoff career high was 17. In two games to start this series, both played on his home court, Dunleavy had scored 20 points, total.
Basketball people, particularly coaches and former players, love to talk about defense being the almighty. No amount of great defense, short of a shutout, is ever enough to satisfy them. And it's entirely true that the Bulls' defensive efficiency in those first two games in Chicago was so bad it would have ranked them 29th in the regular season, behind every team in the league except pitiful Milwaukee. And it's entirely true that holding the Wizards to 43 percent shooting in a 100-97 Game 3 victory on Friday was a dramatic improvement over Games 1 and 2 in Chicago.
Dunleavy won this game for the Bulls. He won it by hitting 12-of-19 shots, including 8-of-10 3-point attempts. He scored a four-point play that Washington's John Wall said absolutely changed the flow and momentum of the game. He hit shots so deep it compromised the Wizards' defense, helped the Bulls hit 48 percent of their shots for the game, and allowed Chicago to survive and climb back into a series even though it committed 17 turnovers and unthinkably goofy mistakes right to the very end. And there's no telling what will happen from here, what with the availability of Nene in question after an early fourth-quarter confrontation that got him ejected (and we'll get back to that in a moment).
Dunleavy won Game 3 for the Bulls because he dented (finally) a Wizards defense that had its way with this series for two games. It was the four-point play with four minutes to play in the third quarter that finished wiping out Washington's nine-point lead and led Wall to say afterward, "The turning point of the game was when we were up nine ... and I didn't move the ball well enough and we got stagnant. ... They hit some big shots and that four-point play really changed it."
Dunleavy changed it, putting the Bulls ahead 63-62 with that play and keeping them in a back-and-forth mode. Dunleavy hit the long 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, too, that put his team up 75-69. And the No. 2 star of the game for the Bulls, undoubtedly, was Jimmy Butler, whose 3-pointer with 24.9 seconds left broke a tie and gave the Bulls just enough of a cushion to survive an unimaginable mistake by Tony Snell, the kind that justifies coaches not even wanting to speak to rookies during the playoffs.