The obvious turning point was Nene getting himself ejected with 8 and a half minutes remaining in the game. We'll have to wait and see if there's any future ramifications, but it definitely cost the Wizards not having (what had been) their best player in this series for the final minutes. Marcin Gortat played his best game this series, but his defensive mobility is a major step down from Nene, and Randy Wittman made the curious decision to use Drew Gooden at the 4 in Nene's absence.
All that said, while defensively he was still really good, even before the ejection it was by far Nene's worst game of the series. As much as he had been tormenting Joakim Noah and the Bulls, this game showed some regression from him as he went 1-6 from midrange and 5-15 overall in the game. Noah was battling foul trouble all night, but was winning that battle as he remained in the game for long stretches while avoiding fouling out until the very end of the game. At various points in the middle quarters, the Wizards were definitely trying to use Nene to try and force Noah out of the game, but when unsuccessful it just look like it took to the Wiz out of their flow.
And that Wizards offense was indeed flowing from when the game began, meaning yet another contest where the Bulls did not have a good start. It wasn't bad, mind you, especially offensively: they shot 13-19 in the first quarter. But 7 turnovers and poor defense still saw them down 2 to the Wizards after the first.
For the Wiz, especially early, it looked like this was going to be 'the John Wall game' that hadn't been seen yet this series. Wall had 11 first-quarter points, including a breakway tomahawk dunk followed by a mean crossover of Hinrich. Wall was more demonstrably-faster than Hinrich than we've seen previously, and did wind up with a good night, 7-14 for 23 points. But he also boffed a few plays along the way, including a 360-layup attempt in the first, and looking terrible trying hero-ball to end each of the first 3 quarters. He also had a crucial pair of FT misses in the final 2 mintues of the game. Bradley Beal continued his emergent play from game 2 actually besting Wall for 25 points, and was the better 4th quarter option amongst the two (though he had a terrible dribble-the-clock-away possession at the end as well). Both guys were needed especially in the wake of Nene getting himself kicked out, and while they played well it wasn't enough.
Meanwhile, the Bulls received the best Mike Dunleavy can offer. Dunleavy hit the first 2 Bulls baskets of the game, had 10 in the first quarter, and just kept going. Winding up with 35 points on 8-10 three-pointers, he would keep coming off of screens from the wing and was just routinely able to get his shot off. He actually converted a 4-point play on one occasion that got the Bulls the lead in the second half.
You could see how he would struggle defensively (having nobody to really guard between Wall/Beal/Ariza) but when shooting that well it doesn't matter. Thus, Dunleavy wound up playing nearly 40 minutes as his play forced a change in the oft-discussed Thibs rotation. The Bulls went with only a single PG down the stretch, plus Thibs even added some Tony Snell 2nd half minutes. They weren't major adjustments like a Carlos Boozer appearance (who was solid in his typical DH role in this game, 14 points on 6-12 shooting), but those minor tweaks plus some actual offense/defense subs to end the game were different than the ride-and-die-with-the-closers lineup we'd seen thus far.
'The closers' did have a nice first half, with yet another strong opening stint from the duo of DJ Augustin and Taj Gibson (16 points combined). But that was again partially ruined by a half-closing run from the Wizards. Washington ended the first half on a 9-0 run, and then a 5-0 one to start the 3rd quarter. The ultimate fear is that they'd run way with it, and at best it was looking like the Bulls were not only going to see another close finish but we'd see a repeat of the prior games with a gassed 4th quarter collapse. But instead it was Washington that went on a major cold spell, a nearly 6-minute stretch scoring only 4 points. Meanwhile Dunleavy and Boozer were getting the Bulls that tie.
The collapse almost still did happen, even after the Nene ejection. The Bulls yet again had a 7 point lead with 6 minutes remaining that was wiped out by the 4-minute mark. Wall and Beal were looking like they may take over the game leading 10-1 Wizards run, but though Beal immediately answered Dunleavy's final three of the game with one of his own putting the Bulls down two, they then didn't score for the next 2:30.
The Bulls didn't look very good down the stretch either, both at the FT line (they shot a Wizards-esque 67% from the line in Game 3) and making several dumb mistakes. But it looked like they really just needed one basket, and got it from Jimmy Butler, who hit a three with 24 seconds remaining. It was Butler's second three since the Nene ejection after missing the previous 7 attempts in the series (and a miserable past 2 games overall).
A quick three-point miss by Washington was followed by a never-ending contest of intentional fouls. It involved dumbness from both teams, from turnovers inbounding the ball, to Tony Snell fouling a shooting Wall 70 feet from the basket, to Garrett Temple fouling with the ball not inbounded yet, to the Wizards on multiple occasions failing to purposely miss the FTs in the final seconds. Ultimately, that one shot from Butler was enough, the single FG they were missing in game two.
Things aren't exactly looking great for the Bulls. This was yet another toss-up game that showed the Bulls weaknesses and could've been another loss, and maybe would've if Nene was playing. But the results are what matter, and the Bulls are much closer to a series comeback then they were before this game, and for all we know there could be a suspension coming for Sunday's game 4.
Ultimately, for now it just means the Bulls aren't getting swept. But that's enough.