Even more frustrating than being two games down and headed on the road is the fact that the Bulls had done everything needed to win both games at home…. except produce in the final minutes.
While the Bulls have been outscored 51-34 in the fourth quarters of the series’ first two games, most of the damage has come in the final seven minutes, where the Wizards have shown the poise and fight that has characterized the Bulls under coach Tom Thibodeau.
In total, Washington has shot 11-for-23 from the field (36 points) compared to Chicago’s 3-for-19 (14) in the final seven minutes. You add the Bulls five turnovers in that seven minute span in Game 2 with their struggling late-game offense and there’s no surprise that they’re headed to the nation’s capital with their backs further against the wall.
It’s also important mentioning that the Bulls had a lead of three and 10 before these stats were calculated.
Chicago has outrebounded Washington 21-20 in the final seven minutes, thanks in part to six offensive rebounds in Game 2 by Taj Gibson in that span, but Washington has gotten eight second chance baskets (6 in Game Two), while the Bulls haven’t gotten any. 13 of Washington's 20 are defensive, which means they're completing their defense.
“We’ve been down before,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to approach it the same way. Sometimes things are going your way. Sometimes they’re not. You have to work your way out of things. We have a lot of guys who have played well in the fourth quarter all year. As I said, it’s a make-or-miss league. If a guy is taking his shot and he’s open and it doesn’t go in, you’re not going to tell him not to take it. We’re capable.”
While they are capable, the Wizards have neutralized the Bulls attack in the fourth of both games by making it a point to make life difficult for D.J. Augustin and Joakim Noah.
Augustin is just 3-for-13 shooting in the fourth period in the series, as the Wizards have trapped him off the high pick-and-roll and in Game 2, they placed 6’8 Trevor Ariza on him after he had gone for 20 points up until the fourth.
"It was tough to score on him because he's 6-8," said Augustin, who generously listed at six feet. "He's long so it was tough to score on him, even to get open. I think it was a good strategy by them.”
Noah is 3-for-5 in the fourth, but only has just two assists; both coming in Game One. Noah is only averaging 3.5 assists after owning a team-high 5.4 during the regular season.
Even with scoring 15 points a game -- up from 12.6 during the regular season – Washington (Nene) has made Noah’s playmaking opportunities few and far between, while giving the league’s Defensive Player of the Year all he can handle on the other end of the floor.
“There’s no shortcut,” Nene told the Washington Post. “Our mentality is to maintain our focus, maintain the way we’re playing, fix our weaknesses and what we’ve done wrong and we’ll be fine. I hope each game, we get better and improve.”
Already limited offensively, who else can step up for the Bulls if their two late-game playmakers are being shutout?
Thibodeau has shot down the notion that a rotation change might be needed to get more scoring on the floor, but that may change as he had to break his normal rotation in the first quarter of Game Two as the Wizards came out like a team that was down a game.
"We have to do it collectively," Thibodeau said. "And that's really what we've done. When we lost Derrick (Rose) and we lost Luol (Deng), that's the makeup of our team. But we have more than enough to win with. We've done it all year. And I have the belief we can do it again."
We’ll see tonight.