The Washington Wizards took a 3-1 lead in their series with the Chicago Bulls on Sunday with a 98-89 win. While the star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 33 points and emerging center Marcin Gortat added 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists, the real star of the game was veteran Trevor Ariza.
Particularly, it was the job that he did early in the first quarter.
Ariza connected on three 3-pointers early in that first period, leading the team to a quick 19-4 lead. Another bucket meant that Ariza accounted for 11 of those 19 points. While the game wasn’t over at that point, Ariza was the biggest reason for the team’s early lead.
As teams almost always do, the Bulls made several runs. However, it was again Ariza who was front and center later in the game. Chicago cut an 18-point lead in the third quarter down to ten, which was when the forward made his move. Ariza scored seven consecutive points to single-handedly push the lead to 17 and essentially, out of reach.
All in all, Ariza had a total of 30 points, including tying the franchise record of six 3-pointers. As usual, he did more than score, too. Ariza hauled in eight rebounds and added a pair of steals while not committing a single turnover.
While Wall and Beal are the future of the organization, Ariza brings an added element that’s really necessary to the makeup of the team – experience. In particularly, playoff experience.
Gortat is the only other starter that’s played in any prior postseason contests, and even his experience can’t compare to Ariza’s. While he has played in 49 games to Ariza’s 44, the latter has been on the court far more and played significantly bigger roles. In various stints with the Lakers, Hornets, Magic, and now, the Wizards, Ariza has played big minutes, logging approximately 27 per game. Throughout his career, he’s also made 32 starts in those 44 games. Meanwhile, Gortat had only a single playoff start before this year, averaging a scant 13 minutes each game.
Wall and Beal are far more important to the franchise’s long-term plans than Ariza. If Washington wants to go deeper in the postseason this year, though, they’ll need the veteran to continue to play a key role.