WASHINGTON – In a season where overcoming odds has been the norm, the Bulls’ trademark defiance ceded to disappointment Sunday afternoon.
“It’s very disappointing to get in a hole like that,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Playing without the suspended Nene, the Wizards scored Game 4’s first 14 points, led by as many as 23, withstood every charge, and walked off the Verizon Center court amid strewn confetti with a 98-89 victory.
“It’s really disappointing,” Joakim Noah said.
If troubling trends – slow starts, turnovers, below-average defense – aren’t fixed by Tuesday’s Game 5, the disappointment will linger into the offseason. The Bulls have never rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series in franchise history.
“It’s just disappointing,” Kirk Hinrich said. “We thought the mistakes we’re making, we could correct them.”
Instead, the Bulls committed 16 turnovers which the Wizards converted into 29 points. They allowed 50 percent first-half shooting before tightening the screws in the second half, but they still allowed Trevor Ariza to score a playoff-high 30 points and tie a franchise-playoff-record with six 3-pointers.
And most disappointingly, they suffered a train wreck just after tipoff. To call the start slow would be like saying there is only a little gridlock in Congress.
Thibodeau burned two timeouts, and the Bulls missed six shots with two turnovers before Jimmy Butler finally dented the scoreboard with a jumper at the 7-minute, 48-second mark. The Wizards led 14-0 and 19-4.
“Readiness to play is me,” Thibodeau said. “They have to get out there and execute. But I’ve got to have them ready. And so that’s disappointing, and it’s got to change or our season will be over.”
So much for the theory that Nene’s absence would benefit the Bulls. Trevor Booker played with energy, particularly early, and finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks before fouling out.
“I feel like we didn’t take advantage of it,” Taj Gibson said of Nene’s absence. “I feel like we were too relaxed. In this league, you can’t be relaxed. Just because one of their starters is out, you got to come out and have that dog mentality. You got to step on their necks right away.”
Gibson certainly did, scoring 20 of the Bulls’ 40 first-half points en route to a career-high 32. But no other Bull shot over 50 percent. D.J. Augustin incurred early foul trouble and shot 3-for-10. Hinrich missed nine of 12 shots.
“They’re trying to deny wings, pressure and deny elbow catches,” Hinrich said. “You have to give them credit. They’re doing a good job. We have to do much better as well. We knew we would have to take care of the ball and be very sharp offensively. And we just haven’t done that very well at times.”
After the disastrous start, the Bulls pulled within four in the second quarter before the Wizards pushed the lead back to 55-40 at halftime on Ariza’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer. A late rally – the Bulls shot 52.6 percent in the second half – pulled them to within eight with 2:03 remaining.
But this last gasp ended with John Wall penetrating for a dish to Marcin Gortat and an easy basket, and Gibson stepping on the baseline for yet another turnover. Wall posted a double-double of 15 points and 10 assists.
So did Noah, who had 10 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. And after his initial disappointment ebbed, he showed a sliver of defiance.
“It’s the first to four,” Noah said. “I think they’re beatable. We’ve just got to find a way.”
Wizards 98, Bulls 89
Star of the game: Trevor Ariza, Wizards, 30 points, 6 3s, 8 rebounds, 2 steals
Up next: Game 5, Wizards at Bulls, 7 p.m. Tuesday
TV/Radio: CSN, TNT/1000 AM