Chicago Bulls: 2014 Playoffs vs. Wizards

Bulls just focused on one win vs. Wizards

April, 29, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls aren't sure how they're going to make it happen, they just know they have to find a way to win Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday or go home for the summer.

"It's do or die," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "We're down 3-1, so we're just trying to get a win."

The Bulls have said all the right things since a disappointing Game 4 loss in Washington on Sunday: They have to play tougher, they have to take care of the ball, they have to start faster -- the cliches go on and on.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is going back to the emotional well to try to get his team to come together for one last stand.

"I think your confidence comes from your preparation," Thibodeau said. "And our team has been through a lot so it's two years of going against the odds. We've got a bunch of fighters, we've been down before and we've climbed out of holes before so we know what we have to do."

Noah talks Sterling: Noah is disgusted by the situation unfolding in Los Angeles in the aftermath of alleged racist comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling. He is just as intrigued as anybody about what commissioner Adam Silver will decide to do -- and say -- during his Tuesday press conference.

"It's a very disappointing situation," he said. "Of course we're interested. I don't know what the biggest penalty is but if those comments are true about what he said it's very disappointing, not just for the Clippers but for everybody around the league."

Noah said the issue goes deeper than just the Clippers franchise.

"It's a league problem," Noah said. "I think it brings a dark cloud to the league. It's sad because I think the league is in a really good place right now. You look at the playoffs all around, you look at teams all around, it's very competitive. Everybody's into it. The NBA's in a good place. Basketball is in a good place, it's become a real global game. And to have one of the owners make ignorant remarks like that, it's just sad."

The last word: "We're not changing the way we approach things. Just thinking about this game possession by possession, quarter by quarter, and take it step by step. That's why you try to build those habits throughout the course of the season because in the end you know the situations you'll be facing. So hopefully you've built the proper habits to get yourself ready to play, have a routine, and then we have to play better." -- Thibodeau, on his team's mindset.

Thibodeau to Bulls: Stop getting bullied

April, 28, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
Joakim NoahChuck Myers/MCT via Getty ImagesThe Wizards have set the tone early through four games against Joakim Noah and the Bulls.
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- As the Chicago Bulls get set for what could be their last stand of the season Tuesday night in Game 5 against the Washington Wizards, Tom Thibodeau's message to his players was clear as they fight for their playoff lives.

Stop getting bullied. Fight back.

Over the first four games of this series, the Wizards have been the team setting the tone on both ends of the floor most of the time. It's a reality the Bulls coach doesn't want his players dealing with anymore.

"They're trying to be a bully to us," Bulls guard D.J. Augustin said after Monday's practice. "Come out and punch us in the mouth early. So we've got to come out and jump on them early. When we do that we usually win games."

When the Bulls don't do that, they end up in the kind of situation they're in right now -- on the brink of the end of their season. For all the "fight" and "edge" Thibodeau and his players always talk about, they fell flat in a major way during Game 4. Once again, they were outplayed from the beginning and couldn't catch up. The problem for the Bulls is that they don't seem to have an answer for why they keep getting punched in the mouth by the Wizards.

"I don't know," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "I really don't know. I'm on the bench looking just like you. We cut [the Wizards' lead] to like six [in Game 4], but when you drain so much energy just fighting out of that big hole early, it's kind of hard to come out. We just need a really good, strong start."

The Bulls are saying all the right things when it comes to getting back on track, they just aren't following through on them when the game begins. They look and sound like a mentally and physically drained group, which is exactly why what they say should be taken with a grain of salt.

"Just pick up our energy level," Gibson said. "Come out with the right kind of spunk. We're giving them too much confidence early and a team like that, you can't give them confidence. You've got to try and slow them down any kind of way."

The one thing the Bulls can usually rely upon is their toughness. It's the main characteristic that has pushed them to so many victories over the past four years under Thibodeau. But to have the kind of toughness the Bulls usually display, they need energy, and that's a resource that's in short supply for them. They are getting beaten by a better team in this series, a younger and quicker team. To find a way back, Thibodeau must call upon all the pride his players have and convince them to keep pushing.

They've done it in the past, but not under these circumstances.

"I've been around our team," Thibodeau said. "This team's been up against it for two years. So all we're thinking about [Tuesday] is win the game. Win the game. Take it step by step. Don't get wrapped up in doomsday or any of that stuff, just think about what we have to do to win."

Slow start dooms Bulls again in Game 4

April, 27, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
BullsBrian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Bulls looked like a tired team as they fell behind the Wizards 3-1 on Sunday.
WASHINGTON -- The Chicago Bulls knew very well how good the Washington Wizards were before this series started.

While many pundits around the league predicted that the Bulls would earn their way into the second round by defeating the Wizards, the Bulls' players and coaches cautioned anyone who would listen how difficult a series this would be. They were right -- but even the Bulls are admittedly surprised with how tough the Wizards have been over the course of the first four games of this series.

What had been a joyous locker room after Friday's Game 3 win turned quiet and sad Sunday afternoon after the Wizards punched the Bulls in the mouth at the start and never let up. Kirk Hinrich and his teammates knew the Wizards started fast in games, but after Washington jumped out to a 14-0 run and the Bulls couldn't answer, the veteran guard admits that the early pushes by the young Wizards team have been the "theme of the series."

"We thought the mistakes we're making, we could correct them," Hinrich said. "But at this point we haven't. I think they've been a real good first-quarter team all year, so we knew that coming into the series and we just haven't done a good job of handling it."

(Read full post)

Dunleavy gets X-ray on left thumb

April, 27, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
WASHINGTON -- Chicago Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy had X-rays on his left thumb after injuring the thumb during the second half of Sunday's Game 4 loss to the Washington Wizards. The results of the X-rays were not immediately known, but the veteran shooter was still in pain after the game as he put the thumb in a cup of ice as he sat at his locker.

Dunleavy said the thumb was sore but he didn't think it was broken.

"I don't think so," he said. "It probably doesn't really matter, it's my left hand. It's not going to make a difference for me."

Dunleavy had just six points in Sunday's loss. The Wizards lead the series 3-1. Game 5 is in Chicago on Tuesday night.

Rapid Reaction: Wizards 98, Bulls 89

April, 27, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
WASHINGTON -- Let's take a quick look at how the Washington Wizards earned a 98-89 win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center. The Wizards lead the series 3-1.

How it happened: Trevor Ariza had a huge game for the Wizards, going off for 30 points and eight rebounds. John Wall chipped in with 15 points and 10 assists as the Wizards played solid defense and showed plenty of toughness without suspended big man Nene. Taj Gibson was the only bright spot for the Bulls all day -- he scored a career high 32 points and grabbed seven rebounds -- but it wasn't nearly enough for a Bulls team that got outplayed from the start of the game.

What it means: It's rare to see the Bulls get outworked in a game from start to finish -- but that's exactly what happened to them on Sunday. They did not play with the fire that has defined them and they wilted in the second half once the Wizards started applying more pressure. The usually stellar defense that has propelled them in the Tom Thibodeau era was missing, and the offense, which has been nonexistent at times this year, never really appeared. It was a missed opportunity for a team that felt confident it could tie up the series without Nene on the floor. The Bulls now face the uphill battle of trying to win three straight games against a team that has played better and tougher than them throughout the series. It will be a tall task for Thibodeau's bunch given how tough it is for them to score points.

Hits: Gibson's performance, on 13-for-16 shooting from the field.

Misses: Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin were a combined 6-for-22 from the field. Also, the Wizards outscored the Bulls 16-2 on fast-break points.

Stat of the night: Take out Gibson's shooting stats and the Bulls were just 22-for-61 from the field, for 36 percent.

What's next: Game 5 is Tuesday night at the United Center.

Noah's time to shine without Nene

April, 27, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
Nene, Joakim NoahAP Photo/Alex BrandonWizards big man Nene was a handful for Joakim Noah at both ends in the first three games.

WASHINGTON -- Tom Thibodeau and his Chicago Bulls players didn't want to speculate whether Washington Wizards big man Nene would be suspended for Sunday's Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series after head-butting Jimmy Butler late in Friday's Game 3. But now that the penalty has been doled out, it figures to be the single biggest break of the series for the Bulls.

Nene's presence in the Wizards' lineup can't be overstated.

He has affected this series in a lot of different areas -- but the biggest issue for the Bulls has been how his length has disrupted Thibodeau's offense. Specifically, how Nene's size and activity has limited what Joakim Noah has been able to do at times on the high post.

Without Nene in the fold, the Bulls, trailing the series 2-1, should look a lot more like the team they were during the final three months of the regular season, particularly on offense. Noah should be able to create more opportunities for his teammates and get them into rhythm early, since some of his passing lanes are figure to be open again.

"They're pressuring me a lot, a lot more than usual," Noah said Saturday, before Nene's suspension became official. "I have to do a better job of making sure I don't turn the ball over. They've been doing a good job with that, and I think it's been giving them a lot of easy points in transition and things like that, so I definitely have to do a better job of not turning the ball over."

The Bulls destroyed the Wizards in an April 5 meeting when Nene sat out because of a knee injury. Noah had 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Carlos Boozer chipped in with 16 points and four rebounds. The difference was that the paint, and the high post for Noah, was open.

[+] EnlargeNene, Carlos Boozer
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCarlos Boozer should also benefit Sunday from the suspension of Washington roadblock Nene.
Noah, the freshly minted defensive player of the year, also struggled containing Nene in the first two games of these playoffs on the defensive end. Without Nene in the fold Sunday, it's a matchup that both Noah and Boozer must use to their advantage.

"The game tells you what shots are going to be there," Thibodeau said. "If [Noah's] shots aren't there -- Joakim helps us in a ton of ways. His screening, I thought, was terrific [Friday], and his defense was very good. So he doesn't have to shoot and score for him to play well."

Maybe not, but Noah has not put up the massive numbers in this series that have defined his season. He has been frustrated by the pressure that Nene and others have brought to bear. Now that that pressure will be off, it's time for him to lead the way as he has all year for the Bulls.

Noah must set the tone on both ends that his teammates follow. He started setting that tone Saturday when asked if he was bothered by the notion that the Bulls are just trying to "rough up" the series and make it more physical because they don't have as much talent.

"It's crazy to me how quick people are just passing judgement and say, 'Oh, this is who they are,'" Noah said. "Every game is different, every situation is different. They have a lot of physical players, and we try to play a physical game and try to win the game. But every situation is different. At the end of the day, it's the way the referees see it, so their perspective is what matters most. The only thing we can do is control what we can control -- and that's do our best."

Without Nene on the floor, Noah's best should be enough to carry the Bulls on Sunday and tie the series up. The emotional center hasn't faced many opportunities like this in his career to date -- games in which he is being counted on to provide even more of a scoring punch given the circumstances. But he has proved throughout his career that he has the ability to rise to the occasion in the biggest of games, as he did in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season against the Brooklyn Nets.

For Noah to take the next step in his evolution as an offensive leader, he must take full advantage of the fact that the human roadblock he has faced over the past week is out of the picture. The pressure will be on Noah to produce -- and it's pressure he'll welcome with open arms, just as he does most other things in his life.

"These games are really coming down to nothing at all," he said. "Just attention to detail. We're disappointed about losing the first two at home, especially having leads in the fourth quarter. But Jimmy Butler, [Mike] Dunleavy, a lot of guys stepped up [Friday] in a real crucial moment. And we're just happy we're in this position right now -- and with our backs against the rope -- to have an opportunity to tie this thing is huge."

Butler hits the big shot for the Bulls

April, 25, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
Nene Hilario and Jimmy ButlerBrian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesJimmy Butler made a pair of 3-pointers after his fourth-quarter run-in with Nene.

WASHINGTON -- Joakim Noah is wired differently.

The Chicago Bulls' emotional center marches to the beat of his own drummer and is confident in his own skin. So it's noteworthy when Noah -- who is viewed by fans and peers alike as an original -- sees a kindred spirit in terms of how a person carries himself.

That person is Jimmy Butler.

Even Noah thinks Butler is a little different, but it's those differences that help Noah understand how the young swingman can continue to play so many minutes and still make big plays -- as he did down the stretch in a 100-97 Game 3 victory Friday night over the Washington Wizards, when he knocked down the biggest bucket of the year with 24.9 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"The guy is built different," Noah said of Butler. "He's a black cowboy. I think that's as unique as it gets. He's one of those guys you can't put him in a category, and I love that because when a guy who plays that hard and really represents what our team is all about, for him to make the biggest shot of the game in the biggest moment of our season. I couldn't be happier that it's him."

That was the feeling throughout the happy Bulls locker room. Butler's teammates know hard the 24-year-old Butler works, and they were happy to see him step up in the biggest of moments. After struggling to find a rhythm and wearing out down the stretch in Game 2, Butler was just happy to be able to contribute to the win.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Butler
Chuck Myers/MCTJimmy Butler's 3-pointer with 24.9 seconds put the Bulls up 94-91.
"Short-term memory loss," he said of his mindset. "It's a new day, a new game, new possessions. My team needs me to step up and take the open shot when it's there. And definitely knock it down when needed."

The key for Butler was that he finally got a bit of a breather in this one. After Butler played a combined 97 minutes over the first two games of the series, and admitted after Friday's shootaround that he was a little fatigued, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gave his ironman a relative break by playing him only 41 minutes. It was something Butler said might have made the difference.

"[The break] might have had a little bit to do with it, to tell you the truth," Butler said.

What made Butler's late-game heroics even more impressive is that he did it after getting into a scuffle with Wizards big man Nene midway through the fourth quarter. The pair exchanged words and went forehead to forehead before Nene grabbed Butler by the head. It was a turning point, as Nene was ejected and Butler responded by going back down the floor and knocking down a 3-pointer. It was one of several much-needed baskets Butler delivered.

His performance, combined with Mike Dunleavy's 35-point explosion, was the biggest reason why the Bulls were able to climb back into the series. Instead of finding ways to lose this game, as they had the previous two, Butler helped the Bulls win.

"Man, we've been blowing good leads," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "They've been playing good defense, but we've just been blowing a lot of good leads. People want to talk about our scoring in the fourth, but it's our defense, too. We limited their shots a little bit, we played great defense late, we rebounded the ball, we kept attacking the offensive glass. At times, when your shot isn't working you've got to do other things."

That's exactly what Butler continues to do -- only this time his shot was working when his team needed it the most.

"Big shot," Noah said. "And it helped us win a ballgame. I couldn't be happier for Jimmy because I know how much work he puts into it. People don't realize how hard it is to play the amount of minutes that he plays. People really have no idea what that feels like. And what he does on a consistent basis for our team is just -- priceless."

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 100, Wizards 97

April, 25, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell

WASHINGTON -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls squeaked out a 100-97 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday night at the Verizon Center. The Wizards lead the series 2-1.

How it happened: Mike Dunleavy had a monster game for the Bulls, going off for 35 points -- knocking down eight 3-pointers. Carlos Boozer had a solid performance as well with 14 points and five rebounds -- but it was Jimmy Butler who saved the day late and pulled the Bulls back into this series. With the shot clock running down in the final 30 seconds, Butler knocked down a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls a lead they wouldn't relinquish. He finished the game with 15 points. Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 25 points, but it wasn't enough as the Bulls made the big shots in this one late.

What it means: The Bulls played with the type of heart and toughness that has defined them throughout the season -- but the difference in this one was that Chicago finally made some shots in the waning moments. Dunleavy was in the zone for most of this contest and put the Bulls on his back before Butler hit the biggest shot of the Bulls' season to date. Earlier in the day, the 24-year-old shooting guard admitted that he was a little fatigued after all the minutes he had been playing. He fought through that, and a fourth-quarter scuffle with Nene, to knock down several big shots, including the dagger for the Bulls. The Bulls' confidence was shaken after the first two games -- but never broken -- and now they have a chance to even up this series in Game 4 in Washington on Sunday.

Hits: The Bulls were 12-for-24 from beyond the arc.

Misses: Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich combined for just 10 points.

Stat of the night: Dunleavy set a Bulls franchise playoff record with his eight 3-pointers.

What's next: Game 4 is Sunday at noon CT.

Noah gets into verbal spat with Wiz security

April, 25, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
WASHINGTON -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah got into a verbal altercation with Washington Wizards security man Jackie Miles at the end of Friday's shootaround.

Noah, who was shooting free throws as the media entered the Verizon Center floor, took exception to the fact that Miles told him to leave the court as the rest of his teammates were finishing up their workout.

The pair exchanged expletives as Noah continued shooting. A few moments later Noah walked toward the locker room to fulfill his pregame interview responsibilities.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau brushed off the incident before Friday's game, saying it was "much to do about nothing."

This isn't the first run-in Miles has had with Chicago personnel. He had another verbal altercation with a Chicago-based reporter before the Bulls' shootaround ended on Jan. 17.

The Wizards come into Friday night's Game 3 leading the Bulls 2-0 in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

Bulls back in familiar role -- underdogs

April, 25, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
WASHINGTON -- Tom Thibodeau and his Chicago Bulls are back in a familiar role, a role they usually thrive in, as they try to climb out of an 0-2 hole against the Washington Wizards.

Once again, they are the underdogs.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTom Thibodeau's Bulls have thrived in the underdog role this season.
"Hey look, we've been counted out all season long, many times," Thibodeau said after Friday's shootaround. "It's a resilient group, just bounce back. We understand what goes into winning. It takes four to win a series. We're just trying to get the first one."

Thibodeau and his players seemed upbeat about their chances to win Game 3 on Friday night and get back into this series, despite the fact that many pundits, including TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who believe this series is over.

"Just quarter by quarter, just be ready," Thibodeau said. "That's the playoffs. You don't change what you have to do. It's a possession by possession game. You have to make more winning plays over a course of a game, so it's not any one particular play. Just be ready at the start. Know your job, do your job. Make more winning plays than they do."

Wall on Game 3: Wizards point guard John Wall had an interesting take on Friday's game.

"The main thing is try to win Game 3 and that's the most important game of this series right now in my opinion," Wall said. "If you can lose this game, you can lose the next one too. Everybody has their opinions and what they're thinking, but we know what we're focused on as a team."

Fixing the fourth-quarter offense: The Bulls only made four field goals in the final 12:16 of Tuesday's Game 2 loss. Taj Gibson knows his team must focus better down the stretch to pick up a victory in Game 3.

"We need to take care of the ball first," Gibson said. "We turned it over, we did a lot of things we don't normally do. We fouled at times when we don't normally foul late in the season. We do those kinds of things the right way we should be fine. When it comes down to offense we got to find the right kind of shot.

"We've been having good looks we just couldn't knock them down. Normally guys like myself, D.J. (Augustin), Kirk (Hinrich) we knock certain kind of shots down, but in the playoffs it's kind of different. There's no excuses, we have to just handle business, we went over a lot of different plays with Thibs. And I look forward to seeing a lot of different guys in the lineup late in the fourth."

Bulls' Butler tired but not complaining

April, 25, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
WASHINGTON -- Jimmy Butler is tired.

After being a league leader in minutes throughout the season, and playing 53 minutes in a Game 2 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards, the Chicago Bulls swingman admits that he is feeling a little fatigued heading into Game 3.

[+] EnlargeBradley Beal
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsBradley Beal says he tries to use Jimmy Butler's fatigue late in games to his advantage.
"I do," he said after Friday's shootaround. "I'm not going to lie about that. But that's only a mental state," he said. "Once you hit a certain point, it's just like you can't get more tired than this."

Butler has played the role of iron man for the Bulls since Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it's a role that he embraces. But it's clear that the minutes have started to catch up with him. Butler isn't complaining about the extra time, joking that he doesn't need a breather, but he's not running from the fact that he would rather be in this situation than not playing at all.

"I wanted to play," Butler said. "Whenever I wasn't playing as a first-year vet I always told [coach Tom Thibodeau] that I want to play. Hell, now I'm playing the whole game so I can't say too much about that."

Thibodeau is confident that Butler can still be productive despite the minutes piling up.

"He's done a good job," Thibodeau said. "He's playing a lot of minutes, got a tough assignment. The thing about Jimmy is he doesn't get discouraged. He'll keep fighting. He has to guard everyone, he has to play-make. We ask him to do a lot. I don't judge him on his scoring. I judge him on his contributions to winning. He's done a lot for our team."

Wizards guard Bradley Beal can see the fatigue setting in for Butler late in games.

"He plays like 48 minutes a game -- he plays the whole game," Beal said. "So I know there's times where he's going to get tired, so I try to use that to my advantage. And I just keep running and try to get him tired on the other end. And hopefully, he won't be as aggressive on offense, and I think he definitely exerts a lot of energy on defense."

Butler, who is averaging 10.5 points on 38.1 percent shooting in the series, admitted there are times that he gets so locked into his defensive assignment that he doesn't focus as much as he needs to on the offensive end.

"I think that happens at times," he said. "I get so caught with not trying to let my guy score that I forget to be an offensive player at times, which can't happen. And we've talked about it so it won't happen."

Thibodeau goes on defense about rotation

April, 24, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Tom Thibodeau's reign as coach of the Chicago Bulls has been defined by consistency. No matter who is on the floor, no matter who is injured, no matter what the circumstances are, his teams usually find a way to win.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastIs Tom Thibodeau stubborn or just committed to his game plan?
He and his players have created a standard within the organization to demand more success. Thibodeau's approach doesn't change; he plays his cards close to the vest, and he usually plays the same cards over and over again until he gets a winner.

The relentlessness that has set him apart from other coaches around the league is being viewed differently after the Bulls dropped their first two games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the Washington Wizards. The narrative regarding Thibodeau's passion has changed; now he's just being viewed as stubborn.

After watching the Bulls' inept late-game offense struggle again in Tuesday night's Game 2 loss -- to the tune of four made field goals in the final 12:16 of the game -- Thibodeau's frustration finally boiled to the surface. He chafed at the suggestion that he might consider rotation changes immediately after Game 2, and he balked again when the topic of Carlos Boozer's minutes came up after Wednesday's practice.

"The group that's in there, Taj [Gibson] is playing well," Thibodeau said. "Whenever you say, put someone else in, you're taking someone else out. Who you taking out? Joakim [Noah]? Who you taking out? Taj? Everyone has a job to do. Just do your job."

The interesting part of Thibodeau's exchange is that he rarely allows that frustration to become public. He is very aware of what media members say and write about what he does during the season, but he usually keeps those opinions to himself. He doesn't let his guard down.

(Read full post)

Augustin goes from hot to cold in loss

April, 23, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- D.J. Augustin was rolling.

With 8:08 left in regulation Tuesday's Game 2, the Chicago Bulls' diminutive point guard knocked down a 21-foot jump shot that gave him 25 points on the night. The jumper gave the Bulls an eight-point lead and they appeared to be on their way to evening up their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series with the Washington Wizards.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Augustin
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesD.J. Augustin had a rough finish to Game 2 after the Wizards made a defensive switch and held him scoreless down the stretch.
But that's when things went downhill for Augustin. It's also when things also went south for the Bulls. While there were plenty of reasons the Bulls couldn't close yet again late in a game, one of the single biggest reasons is that Wizards coach Randy Wittman switched veteran Trevor Ariza to defend Augustin.

Augustin didn't hit another shot the rest of the game -- a total of 13 minutes, 8 seconds that crushed the Bulls' offense.

"It was tough to score on him because he's 6-8," said Augustin, who stands just 6-foot. "He's long so it was tough to score on him, even to get open. I think it was a good strategy by them and we tried to counter it by going to other people, so we just got to be ready next game."

The reality that the Bulls' offense was shut down -- in large part -- due to the fact a long and athletic swingman switched onto a smaller point guard is going to give coach Tom Thibodeau and his staff nightmares as they prepare for Game 3. It's the same strategy that the Miami Heat have used in recent years to derail Thibodeau's offense. In the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, it was Miami's LeBron James who switched on to Derrick Rose and shut him down late in games. In the 2013 Eastern Conference semifinals, it was James who switched on to Nate Robinson and did the same thing.

Now it's Ariza who has provided the perfect antidote to defending a Bulls' offense that was rolling along behind Augustin. As has been the case in years past, once Augustin or Robinson or Rose stop scoring, the Bulls' offense stops working. The Bulls made only four field goals in the final 12 minutes, 16 seconds.

(Read full post)

Late chances off the mark for Hinrich

April, 23, 2014
Padilla By Doug Padilla
CHICAGO – With the season hanging in the balance Tuesday at United Center, Chicago Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich first couldn’t muster any heroics, and then he couldn’t handle the basics.

Late in regulation, Hinrich had two looks at long-range jumpers that wouldn’t fall for a Bulls team struggling to score in the final quarter. A 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining melted away, sending the game into overtime.

[+] EnlargeKirk Hinrich
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty ImagesWith the game on the line, Kirk Hinrich went to the free throw line with a chance to tie -- and left empty-handed.
In the extra period, Hinrich found himself in the spotlight again. With the Bulls trailing by two, Hinrich missed a layup in traffic, but a foul sent him to the free throw line with a chance to extend the game into a second overtime.

But Hinrich missed the first free throw, intentionally missed the second, and the Washington Wizards grabbed the rebound along with the commanding 2-0 series lead after a 101-99 victory.

“Yeah, I mean I was upset. I felt I should have made the layup to be honest,” Hinrich said. “But I just wasn’t able to do it. I thought maybe I shot it a little quick, thinking about it now in my mind. But you have to move on and just stay confident.”

Hinrich isn’t the Bulls' No. 1 offensive option by any means, but without a primary scorer, his selections are limited while running the offense. D.J. Augustin led the Bulls with 25 points, but he had his own issues down the stretch in regulation, missing three shots in the final 3 minutes, 16 seconds.

Asked if he was satisfied with the long-range jumpers late in regulation, Hinrich shrugged.

“Well, I mean I got a good look, but I wasn’t satisfied,” he said. “I need to knock them down. Late in games, you have to be able to knock shots down. I missed a couple of good looks late.”

It’s the missed free throw that will be remembered most. The Bulls appeared destined to head into a second overtime but had the rug pulled out from underneath them.

And just as suddenly, they find themselves looking at the prospect of a quick elimination, instead of establishing themselves in the series.

A late jump shot or a pair of clutch free throws could have helped to get the Bulls into the thick of things, but Hinrich’s teammates weren’t about to turn on their veteran leader.

“I think it's all part of the process,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “I love Kirk to death. He's one of the best teammates I ever had, college, pros, whatever. That's our captain, I love him to death. Things like that happen in this game. We just got to move on from it and I got his back 150 percent.”

Taj Gibson, who supplied energy during his 36 minutes off the bench, not to mention 22 points and 10 rebounds, echoed Noah’s sentiment.

“Yeah, I was surprised. Things like that are going to happen,” Gibson said of Hinrich’s missed first free throw. “He’s a tremendous player. He’s been great for us all year long, been in that situation many times. If that happened in that time again, I would still go with Kirk. He’s one of the captains on this team, one of the veterans on this team. I was just a little shocked when he missed, but it happens like that, he’s human.”

Now it will take something close to superhuman for the Bulls to get back in the series that shifts to Washington for Games 3 and 4.

“Both games we’ve given up [with] fourth-quarter leads, so we have to do a better job,” Hinrich said. “Give them credit, though. They’re playing well, and they’ve been resilient these two games. We have to bounce back strong.”

Augustin: Game 2 is must-win for Bulls

April, 22, 2014
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- D.J. Augustin knows how important Game 2 against the Washington Wizards is for the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night. After falling into a 1-0 hole, Augustin is hopeful that his team will be able to turn things around.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Augustin
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty ImagesD.J. Augustin struggled to find his shooting stroke from the floor in Game 1 against the Wizards.
"Definitely a must-win," he said after Tuesday's shootaround. "We're not looking forward to D.C. yet so we have to get tonight. We're real hungry. We can't go into D.C. without a win tonight so it's very important for us."

Every game is important to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, but he's not willing to call Game 2 a "must-win."

"It's the next game," Thibodeau said. "You see all different situations. Just focus in on this game, don't get wrapped in the 'what ifs,' just understand what goes into winning. Go out there and do your job."

Augustin struggled with his shot in Game 1, connecting on just 3-of-15 attempts from the floor, but he hit all 10 of his free throws, finishing with 16 points.

Noah backs Boozer: Carlos Boozer has been vocal about his desire to play more in the fourth quarter of games, but Bulls center Joakim Noah appreciates the fact that he hasn't let that desire hurt his play when he has been on the floor.

"'Los' is huge for us," Noah said. "We need everybody. This isn't one of those teams where one or two guys can play well. Everybody has to be on the same page, play well. You got to give Carlos a lot of credit. With everything that's gone on with him, he's dealt with a lot of adversity this year.

"He's been pretty vocal about his situation, but he's been as selfless as they come. Just being ready for these moments -- he could have easily been one of those guys who said 'You know what? I'm not happy.' But he didn't do that so you got to give 'Los' a lot of credit."

Thibs happy for Pop: Thibodeau has repeatedly praised the San Antonio Spurs as being the "gold standard" in the NBA. His respect for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is easy to see, as well. That's one of the reasons why Thibodeau seemed genuinely happy when told Popovich won the 2013-14 NBA Coach of the Year award Tuesday.

"I'm happy for him," Thibodeau said. "You know how I feel about him. I think he's an all-time great. He's won at such a high level for so long, and he's done it in a first-class manner. He's a great example for all coaches. So I'm very happy for him."



Jimmy Butler
20.5 3.2 1.8 39.8
ReboundsP. Gasol 12.0
AssistsD. Rose 4.9
StealsJ. Butler 1.8
BlocksP. Gasol 2.2