The Chicago Bulls had a spirited run this season once again sans superstar Derrick Rose and later on without All-Star Luol Deng after his unpopular midseason trade. They now find themselves one game away from elimination at the hands of the red-hot Washington Wizards. Chicago’s weaknesses have been exploited in a way that few thought was possible by the young Wizards, as its lack of a legitimate scoring threat has left the offense hopeless. The Bulls fell down 3-1 in the series following a 98-89 victory, a final score not indicative of the nature of the game. Washington was defiantly in control from start to finish.
The Wizards have utilized a diverse offensive attack and proven that they are capable of beating a team in a number of ways. They can play at the Bulls’ pace and beat them in the halfcourt, and can also get out and run Chicago out of the gym. The Bulls have not been able to match their balanced offense that has put at least three players over 15 points in each of the four games. The Bulls did that over the first two games, but the offense has become more stagnant over each game. In Game Four, Taj Gibson had a magnificent performance, going 13-for-16 for a career-high 32 points as well as seven rebounds. The rest of the team shot 35 percent. In Game Three, Mike Dunleavy hit eight threes for a total of 35 points, and Chicago still had to rely upon a boneheaded decision by Nene of the Wizards to get thrown out of the game to eek out a win.
Chicago allowed the fewest points in the NBA this season at just under 92 per game. Thus far, the Bulls have not been able to hold the Wizards under 97 points, a number that is just out of Chicago’s reach due to the lack of offense. Regardless of the outstanding 30+ point nights from Dunleavy and Gibson, the Bulls are doomed in the series if they have to count on unlikely performances like that just to keep their heads above water. Chicago has not played its brand of basketball at all in this series, and has started to look like the team that people expected when it traded Deng.
Only eight teams in NBA history have overcome a 3-1 playoff series deficit, and it has not been accomplished since the 2006 Phoenix Suns. The Bulls now head back to Chicago, which still gives little hope since the Wizards have already beaten them twice on their home court. The Bulls are not the type of team to roll over and die. It is just not in their nature, but big questions are being brought to the forefront in lieu of this disappointing playoff performance so far. It is even unlikely that Derrick Rose would be enough to alleviate the issues that plague this team on offense.
The Chicago Bulls are on the verge of heading home for the summer, and are unlikely to go down quietly. However, the Bulls have been consistently outplayed in a way that no one has seen in recent years. The only chance they have to rattle off three consecutive wins to advance is if they get back to playing their style of ball and prove that they can stay in front of John Wall and Bradley Beal on the perimeter without compromising ownership of the paint to the Wizards’ big men. Joakim Noah has to get back to being the nightly triple-double threat, because stars win out in the playoffs. The odds are against them, but don’t count Chicago out just yet.
Commentary by Justin Hussong