The Bulls have been trying to heed the words of Byron—no, not Houston, Scott or Irvin—to go forth and conquer. But they can’t seem to solve the problems of the fourth. Which leads to very little conquering.
And so it was again Wednesday as the Bulls gave up an early 13-point lead. And then after leading 85-83 with nine minutes left, they saw the Washington Wizards go on a 12-2 run and pull away for the 107-97 victory.
The loss sent the Bulls back to .500 at 14-14 with a streaking Washington team moving to 13-15. It was the Bulls’ seventh loss in their last 10 games as they now go on the road to Charlotte and Christmas Day in San Antonio.
The Bulls were led by Jimmy Butler with 20 points and 11 rebounds, though shooting six of 20. Butler is averaging 18.8 points the last five games. Dwyane Wade had 19 points, but on seven of 20 shooting. Taj Gibson added 17 points and 11 rebounds. But the Bulls after another impressive first quarter with 63 percent shooting and a 33-22 lead staggered and slowed. The Wizards led by John Wall with 23 points and Bradley Beal with 21 had a whopping 32 fast break points to decimate the Bulls defense and shoot 57 percent in the second half, 61 percent in the fourth quarter. The Bulls had a huge 18-4 margin in second chance points, but crashing those offensive boards left them open in transition and the Wizards capitalized.
And then the Bulls again couldn’t do enough down the stretch, the Bulls ranking at the bottom of the NBA in fourth quarter scoring and shooting with a game that has tended to become most stagnant late.
“Call it what it is; we are putting a lot of pressure on Jimmy in the fourth quarter to make a lot of plays because we are running one action,” said Wade. “So we have to get more action, more body movement and it has to come from us as players, too. Obviously, some of it is play calling as well. But some is we have to get out of the way. We have to move, keep them honest; we are asking a young guy to make every shot he takes with bodies in front of him, step backs and all these things. It’s not the easiest thing to do.
“There’s not a lot of spacing sometimes,” said Wade. “We had to take a lot of tough shots and some nights you hit them and some nights you don’t; we have to figure that out, continue to keep playing together, talk about our spacing so we can get better opportunities. Some nights you are going to able to make them and some nights it’s going to be tough to shoot a high percentage when the floor is not as spaced as much because of the way they are defending. You have to be able to move them around and obviously you want to get the ball up court to start your offense faster; we have to find a way to make shots a little easier for guys.
Though it’s not that early as the Bulls are a third of the way through the season and having difficulty escaping that average malaise. The 10th place Wizards moved within a game of the Bulls.
Wade seemed to suggest a lack of offensive artistry and player execution. Which comes first, the isolation or the pass? It’s true the Bulls often have slowed into a walk late in games. But there seem so many connected issues. Rajon Rondo, who had three points, 10 assists and six rebounds, played late and isn’t an offensive threat. But he only played with sixth most minutes in the fourth quarter and when the Bulls went to the floor spacing shooters, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, the Wizards attacked them in isolation. Hoiberg went with Robin Lopez late for more defense as Butler pointed to the defense letting down. But Washington then put Lopez in the pick and roll with Wall beating the guard. Lopez tends to give ground on the pick and roll and Wall beat the Bulls twice late that way. Cristiano Felicio is a more aggressive defender on that pick and roll, but he isn’t the offensive threat of Lopez.
The Bulls opened the fourth quarter with Jerian Grant at point guard, and he did basically split the fourth quarter minutes with Rondo. Grant had an impressive start with a pair of driving scores. He went out after being beaten back to back by Trey Burke, the Wizards bench with 13 of the team’s 30 fourth quarter points.
With Butler with 11 rebounds and Rondo with six and the instincts of the Bulls big guys to hit the boards, the Wizards ran to eight fourth quarter fast break points while the Bulls ended up going to Wade and Butler in the half court. Unlike in the big win over Detroit Monday, the Bulls weren’t making shots. So there were breakdowns in a lot of areas.
“We missed a couple of layups, we missed a couple of wide open three pointers, and then we stopped getting back,” said Hoiberg. “We were taking the ball out of the net and lost our pace. We are not a very good team when we do that. In the first quarter I thought we were terrific. After that, things just really bogged down. I thought we played the right way (to start); the ball was moving, and guys were sharing it out there (eight first quarter assists). We kind of took off where we left off that game against Detroit. Then we allowed them to get the momentum going into the half. They outscored us by 10 in that second quarter (for a Bulls 56-55 halftime lead). We lost our pace and never really regained it back.”
Hoiberg was asked about using Rondo late. “Rondo, he’s the fastest guy on this team,” said Hoiberg. “He does a solid job of getting us organized; that was the reason I had him out there. We’ll evaluate everything.”
And so the confounding Bulls season continues, one of brilliant highs and head scratching lows, pummeling a Detroit team Monday whom the Bulls previously lost to and then being outrun late at home by a Wizards team the Bulls defeated last month. The Bulls did outrebound Washington and had more assists, 25-23. The bench was better again, 32 points to 33 for Washington’s. Mirotic had 11 points and McDermott 10, and they combined to shoot five of 12 on threes. The starters were one of seven on threes. It’s not exactly pointing fingers, but it’s more just not being able to get a hand on how to get a streak going.
Gibson was accurate again early, eventually making it 13 straight field goals before a miss. But the Wizards reserves had a big second quarter to even the game. Gibson had a huge block on a dunk attempt early in the third and McDermott got it going with a pair of threes in the third. It was tied at 77 going onto the fourth quarter after Butler, Wade and Rondo combined for a one of 13 third quarter. The Wizards then had all the magic that was left in the game.
“The ball just didn’t go in the hole,” said Butler. “We took a lot of the right shots. It happens like that. I’ve got to be a better playmaker, get the ball up a little earlier. I’ll watch it, see what I see. I’m going to still play basketball the way I know how to play basketball, good, bad, indifferent. I think I play to win. So I guess we all have got to be better, including myself.
“The fourth quarter is not the decision maker,” Butler insisted. “Yeah, it’s important. But we were doing stuff wrong all game to put ourselves in the position. Then it just carried on over to the fourth. You can’t really say the fourth quarter is that big of a problem because if we were doing everything we were supposed to be doing for the other three quarters, we wouldn’t be in that situation. As the game goes along, teams are going to key in, especially on myself and D. Wade. We’ve got to figure out other ways to get guys the ball. We’ve got to put other guys in great positions as well. We’re not guarding anybody, either. Eventually, we have to figure it out. It gets old real quickly. I know everybody in this locker room hates losing. So we have to fix it. That’s not the type of basketball we want to play.”