Another valiant season by the Bulls ended with another early exit as the Washington Wizards eliminated them 75-69 in the fifth game of the series.
The 69 points tied the second lowest points the Bulls have scored in postseason history. Making the elimination all the more painful is that they had their chances. But that seemed to follow the theme of the series.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” Joakim Noah said. “They had no holes on their team and a lot of talent. Young guys, a lot of vets, guys who have been there before and you’ve got to give that team a lot of credit. They came in and they deserved it.
“I think they’re very well-coached. I think their system definitely bothered us. The abilities of their players bothered us. Nene was a beast down there. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit. (Marcin) Gortat is definitely a load down there and then they have those young players. I think Bradley Beal, he’s a beast, man. He’s young, he’s one of the better players in our league and to be that young, and to do the things that he can do is very impressive. And like I said, they have a lot of experience, too. Trevor Ariza is somebody who’s been there before and then John Wall, I think he’s doing a great job just pushing the ball up the court. They caused a lot of problems, so you’ve got to give credit where credit is due.”
None of the Bulls strengths nor the principles they’ve prided themselves on following mattered none during this series as Washington was the more athletic, quicker to the ball and surprisingly; the more poised and hungrier team.
Down three with 1:58 remaining, Washington was able to secure three offensive rebounds to burn time off the shot clock all the way to 59 seconds when Beal turned the ball over. The Bulls had a chance to make it a one point game but Jimmy Butler missed a layup and with 17 seconds remaining and Andre Miller at the line for two. Miller missed both, but Nene was able to corral the offensive board.
The Wizards outrebounded the Bulls 15-8 in the fourth with eight of those being on the offensive glass.
“That’s why you got to start the game the right way because you look at the playoffs and the coach kind of shortens up the roster,” Taj Gibson said. “You got to conserve energy going out there, giving it your all. You got a lot of times where we were digging ourselves out of 15, 10-point (deficits), trying to fight back. Then comes the fourth quarter and you don’t have any energy. You’re running on fumes. You look at every game we played this series and we were always fighting back. We never once had a lead in the first quarter. We always came up short and that’s not our kind of style of basketball. It’s frustrating because we really work hard in the walkthrough and I’m pissed because we really had a hard season and guys putting in effort. You want to get rewarded when you put in a lot of effort.”
It was even more frustrating for Gibson, who had to watch most of the final period in the training room as a severe left ankle sprain ended his night. Noah was also laboring through a left knee issue, which coach Tom Thibodeau said has bothered him throughout most of the second half of the season.
“Jo was laboring and I couldn’t sub him in the second half and then Taj going down, that was a big hit for us,” Thibodeau said. “It’s what we dealt with all year. I’m proud of the team. I thought they gave us all they had, there was nothing left and that’s all you can ask for. This team climbed out of a lot of holes all year long and they didn’t make any excuses. They fought as hard as they could and we came up short in the end.”
Ultimately, it was the very weaknesses of the team that plagued them through times during the regular season that they never found a way to cover for that was their undoing.
The Bulls managed only 15 points in the first and 11 in the third, holes that the league’s worst-ranked offense could never make ground on. You can be sure that changes will be made this offseason to see that some of the needs of one of the league’s best defenses is balanced on the other end.
“I think we’re a good team, but we’re trying to find a way to get over that hump, to get to that next level,” Noah said. “The only thing I can do is get better individually, be ready for next season. But like I said right now, I don’t know what the future holds, in terms of who’s going to be here and stuff. But all I can say is I appreciate the guys who were here this year. I’ve never been around a group of guys who worked their asses off from the beginning to end.”
“Every year I go into it believing that we’re going to win a championship and I think that there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from this year, and just looking forward to next year.”