The Bulls, going into the playoffs, were supposed to be the most dangerous team in the NBA playoffs. However, despite a valiant effort down several stretches of game two, the Chicago Bulls, are facing a sweep against the Washington Wizards, as the series shifts to their opponent’s floor, after a 101-99 overtime loss.
The Bulls had a very disappointing game one, in a series they had been expected to win. Usually, when this happens to a team, they react with a strong game two; strangely, the Bulls looked broken down to start the second contest against the Washington Wizards.
Meanwhile, the Wizards, hit everything from the floor, inside and out. Instead of game one’s inside play of Nene Hilario, to start their run, game two began with the shooting prowess of Bradley Beal, who had 10 in the first.
On the Bulls, Carlos Boozer, was absent by scoring zero points in the first, but the other starters were not much better, with Joakim Noah leading with four points. As a result, Tom Thibodeau adjusted, by benching all starters but Jimmy Butler. The change helped. D.J. Augustin’s nine points, in the final two minutes, helped lift Chicago to 20, despite Washington’s 31.
The second quarter saw a Chicago Bulls team that fared better, as they pulled within seven at the end of the first half, despite 14 points from John Wall and a 13 points from Beal, before going to break.
Chicago came out of the gate, in the second half, with a flurry of offense, thanks to the hustle play from Noah, Augustin and Gibson, which also let players, like Mike Dunleavy, pitch in on the offensive end.
While the Bulls extended their lead to 10 in the fourth, it did not last. Midway through the quarter, cracks started to seep through, which resulted in an extensive run by Washington, with no answer from Chicago, which resulted in an overtime.
Nene, who seemed absent most of the game, extended the Wizards run to 20-4, between the end of the fourth and overtime, with only a few minutes remaining.
Chicago did fight back though, thanks in large part to Gibson drawing a foul with 42 seconds to go, along with Hinrich, who drew more made free throws. In the final play, it appeared as though, Hinrich, would bring the Bulls into an overtime, when he drew Nene’s final foul; however, instead of making both shots, Hinrich missed the first and tried to brick the second, for a quick shot, which resulted in a Wizards’ rebound and win.
What the Bulls Need to Do
Consistency. That is what the Bulls need, in order to pull off what seems like an impossibility — winning four of the next five games in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
In order to do this, the Bulls need to wake up, from the get-go of the game. Two games in a row now, the Bulls have fallen behind early. In fact, game two featured what looked to be a blowout in the making, before the bench, led by D.J. Augustin, helped with a flurry of offense. While Gibson and Hinrich both succeeded in getting to the line, the Bulls, need to find a way to get more free throws. The first quarter, for instance, came and went without a single free throw.
One good thing the Bulls are doing is controlling the boards. They beat Washington 49-42 in the game. More importantly, they beat them 17-8 on the offensive glass, which gave Chicago eight more shots.
One aspect that the Wizards took advantage of the Bulls in the first game, was the superior play of their bigs; however, Chicago made it more difficult for them in game two, with Marcin Gortat only scoring seven and Nene not coming on until the overtime, which resulted in his 17.
This brings us to the Bulls’ next problem. Oftentimes, when they go on an offensive run, they loosen up their defense. This is their main consistency problem, and as a result, they need to play tight on Washington, all game long. Otherwise, the Wizards will come back on them, much like they did in game two.
The biggest adjustment Thibodeau needs to put in place in game three, is to utilize his bench more often. The lineup that consists of Noah, Gibson and Augustin, typically is the more efficient and reliable squad, on both ends of the floor. Boozer is supposed to be the best offensive threat; however, when he is not shooting, like tonight, he needs to be taken out. Likewise, if Hinrich is not contributing, he needs to be taken out. If Thibodeau does this, the Bulls have a fighting chance; if their best players are on the bench, they will not win.
What the Wizards Need to Do
The key advantage the Washington Wizards had in game one of the NBA playoffs, was the play of Nene and Gortat, which overpowered the smaller bigs on the Bulls, in Noah and Gibson. In game two though, their front line did not play up to par. As seen in game one, when Nene and Gortat are on, their offense is more efficient. Having said that, the play of Bradley Beal, helped their offense tremendously.
In addition to the front court though, Wall has to bring his A game. He had a great first half with 14; however, he only had two points in the second half, which is inexcusable for an all-star player.
On the defensive end, the Wizards need to be careful, not to let Gibson and Noah, inside. Many times in game two, Gibson and Noah would get in the post, where they can be unstoppable. Gibson, in particular, is more dangerous, as he was able to score and get three-point plays, from drawing the foul from Washington. Instead, the Wizards need to clog the lane, with their bigs, to prevent the big men of the Bulls from being able to score inside.
What hurt the Wizards, in particular, was giving the Bulls confidence. Hustle players like Augustin, Gibson and Noah, helps motivate the rest of Chicago, which can be impossible to stop once it is started. To adjust, they need to halt any momentum on the Bulls’ side. Whether this is through tightening the screws on the defensive end or taking a timeout, they cannot let the Bulls get on fire.
Game Four Prediction
The Bulls have their backs against the wall. Game two should have been theirs, but their antsy, inconsistent play, cost them. Now, going into game three, the pressure is on, and not only does the game become physical but mental. As a result, it looks like the Wizards are too much to handle for the offensively deficient Bulls, who will lose game three and, quite possibly, may get swept in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey