Nene was restless the night before his first playoff game in three years, waking up in his hotel room in the middle of the night, worrying about how he would perform, stressing over how the Washington Wizards would respond to the cacophony of an unfamiliar environment.

The excitement and angst were understandable given Nene’s long road back to relevance. Thrust into a difficult transition after the Denver Nuggets dealt him to a rebuilding franchise that lacked a solid foundation and was focused on the future, Nene had his time in Washington marred by injuries to his feet and legs. But his ability to affect the game with his passing, scoring and intelligence has always been undeniable — and in Game 1 of the Wizards’ first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls, the efforts of the Brazilian big man proved to be the difference in a 102-93 victory at United Center.

“It’s a magical moment,” Nene said after scoring 24 points, grabbing eight rebounds and recording a critical block in the final minute. “I understand everything that happens in my life. I’m happy to be here, to be able to help my teammates, my team. I understand that people say things that they don’t know, but who can control our present is ourselves. Who can [control] our future is only God. That’s what we believe. We need to believe each other. We need to trust each other, and the sky is the limit. I think we can surprise a lot of teams if we play the right way. That’s what we try to do.”

The Wizards weren’t picked by many experts, with the common refrain that inexperience would derail them. John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards’ young back-court mates, made their playoff debuts, but the Wizards were stocked with veterans who have been through postseason battles. With the game on the line, the Wizards’ franchise cornerstones had to defer to the players who have been there before, with Nene, Andre Miller and Marcin Gortat teaming up to lead a stunning rally in the fourth quarter. That trio and Trevor Ariza combined to score the first 24 points for Washington in the period, with Gortat giving the Wizards a 96-90 lead when he rebounded a Wall miss, hit a baseline jumper and screamed madly as he ran to the bench.