The Verizon Center was rocking after Nene completed a fast break layup to get the Wizards to within two early in the fourth quarter of the Bulls' 100-97 Game 3 win on Friday night. Then, Nene had a brain fart that may have changed the entire outlook of this series, as the NBA suspended the big man for Game 4 after his altercation with Jimmy Butler.
Nene started everything, giving Butler a little shove while he was heading back on defense after making the layup. Butler didn't take kindly to that, giving Nene a slight shove himself and also giving him a piece of his mind. Then it was on, with the two mushing heads and Nene grabbing Jimmy by the head/neck. There was a bit of a head-butt, and Nene also took a clear swing at Butler, which led to an ejection and the suspension:
It was a completely bone-headed move by Nene, and it could cost the Wizards. While Butler clearly helped instigate, he did a good job not going over the line when Nene went after him. That let Butler escape the tussle with just a technical instead of an ejection and suspension. Butler responded in the best way possible, burying a huge three on the next possession, the game-winner in the final minute and some clutch free throws to help seal the deal. It was sweet redemption for Butler, who had looked mostly useless on the offensive end in Game 2 and for much of Game 3.
With the Bulls stealing Game 3 and Nene out for Game 4, they're right back in this series. Nene struggled in Game 3, but he was great in the first two games and is clearly a key player for Washington. The Wizards are a much better team when both Nene and Marcin Gortat are on the floor, and there's a clear downgrade to Trevor Booker and Drew Gooden.
Obviously the Bulls will still have to come out and play well in order to nab another road win, but a victory in Game 4 sends the series back to Chicago tied 2-2. Most of the pressure would be on the young Wizards after blowing a 2-0 series lead, and a victory in Game 5 would have them reeling on the verge of elimination.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. No skipping steps. One game at a time. And thank you, Mike Dunleavy.