Prior to Tuesday night's Game 5 between the Bulls and Wizards, Washington head coach Randy Wittman said his group had been able to get off to quick starts because of defensive effort that led to an up-tempo offense.
And in the first quarter Tuesday night, his group did just that. Again.
Led by six points apiece from John Wall and Nene, the Wizards held a 23-15 lead through 12 minutes. It was the fifth straight game in the series that the Wizards have held an advantage through the first quarter, and though the 23 points the Wizards scored were their fewest of the series, they still managed to shoot 53 percent to take an early advantage.
That disturbing trend -- the field goal percentage -- reared its ugly head again. Including Game 5, the Wizards have shot 53-for-101 in five first quarters. The Bulls, ranked dead last in scoring in the regular season, have shot just 41 percent in the opening stanzas. The result has been the Wizards holding leads of six, 17, seven, 15 and eight, respectively, in each first quarter.
"We’ve come out and established ourselves, first and foremost, from a defensive standpoint which has been important for us," Wittman said. "Getting stops early and then we have to have a high defensive rebound percentage against this team, and when we do it enables us to get out in transition and allows us to play at a quicker pace. So when you’re taking the ball out of bounds you’re not able to do that. So coming out it’s always important for us to get established from a defensive standpoint right away, and I think that feeds in to what we’re able to do from a pace standpoint."
They did that, too, holding the Bulls to just 6-for-23 from the field in the first quarter. In each first quarter combined, the Bulls are shooting 41 percent, and that includes a 13-for-19 performance in Game 3. If that game is out of the equation, the Bulls are shooting just 34.8 percent in the opening quarters.
It's not what Tom Thibodeau wanted to see from his group, and it's not like this year's Bulls team to come out flat. Before the game Thibodeau said the remedy for slow starts was a simple and obvious one: be ready to play from the jump.
"The readiness for the start of the game. The speed and intensity to start. We have to make sure we have the proper floor balance," Thibodeau said. "They’ve got to feel us, we’ve got to be up into them. We’ve got to attack on both ends."
Through four games the Bulls have outscored the Wizards in the second, third and fourth quarter (and overtime) combined, but in that first quarter the Wizards are outscoring Chicago, 136-103. Tuesday night the Bulls were able to make a comeback in the second quarter, using a 17-4 run to erase the Wizards' deficit and eventually even up with their opponents at the half, 41-41. But the early holes are making it difficult to compete, and if the Bulls are able to force a Game 6, a slow start in Washington, D.C. would be disaster.