As Kirk Hinrich stepped to the free throw line with 2.4 seconds remaining and the Bulls down two, he had just one thing on his mind:
"What was going through my mind was that I was going to knock them down," he said.
But on his first attempt, Hinrich, a 76 percent free throw shooter in the regular season and 80 percent shooter for his career, hit the back iron on a miss that essentially ended the Bulls' chance at an overtime comeback. He missed the second attempt intentionally but the Bulls couldn't corral the loose ball, resulting in a 101-99 defeat and 0-2 hole in their best-of-seven series against John Wall and the Wizards.
It was the last sequence in a series of events that saw the Bulls trail by 17 in the first quarter, take their first lead in the third quarter, lead by as many as 10 in the fourth quarter, only to see the Wizards end the final stanza on a 14-4 run to force overtime. In the extra period it was the Bulls who did the late surging, coming back from down six with 42 seconds left to have a chance to tie, only to see Hinrich's free throw clank off the back of the rim.
Much like the final 5 minutes for the Bulls, Hinrich had some impressive ups and head-scratching lows Tuesday night.
In 32 foul-plagued minutes, he scored 12 points but needed 13 field-goal attempts to do so. And while he added seven rebounds and four assists, he also turned the ball over three times in the final 11 minutes of the game, including one in overtime with the Bulls down two.
He did add a pair of steals, but he wasn't able to help slow down a Wizards offense that shot 48 percent from the field and received 42 points from their starting backcourt. When he picked up his fourth foul just two minutes into the third quarter, it put offensive spark plug D.J. Augustin in the game but also severely limited the Bulls defensively. Augustin, who scored a Bulls-high 25 points, had trouble staying with the 6-foot-4 Wall (16 points, seven assists) and veteran Andre Miller (eight points, two assists).
He also got into a tussle with Bradley Beal late in the second quarter, tangling himself up with the Wizards shooting guard as each player got in a shove before being broken up by teammates. As the two were being separated -- double technicals to both players were given -- Joakim Noah got the crowd fired up with his famous jazz hands motion, signaling a potential momentum change in the game. The Bulls had reeled off six straight at the time to cut the deficit to seven, and eventually had it within one before John Wall closed the half with five straight points.
"The altercation with Kirk Hinrich, it was just us getting tangled up," Beal said. "But that's playoff basketball. Everybody's fighting to win. He's a smart player."
Hinrich certainly was playing to win, and at the end of overtime had a chance to force another five-minute stretch at home potentially to even up the series.
Out of a timeout, Hinrich took a handoff from Jimmy Butler and drove right, beating Wall off the dribble and meeting Wizards power forward Nene at the rim. In what was another tightly officiated game (49 personal fouls), Nene was called for his sixth foul as Hinrich laid the ball off the backboard, a shot which he admitted he probably should have made in the first place.
But it didn't go in, and neither did the two free throws he attempted in the closing seconds of the Bulls' fifth straight home playoff loss. The Bulls' issues go deeper than Hinrich's free throws, and his teammates reiterated that when asked about it after the game.
"It’s all part of the process. I love Kirk to death. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had," Joakim Noah said. "That’s our captain and I love him to death. Things like that happen in this game. We’ve just got to move on from it. I’ve got his back 150 percent."
Added Taj Gibson: "Things like that are going to happen. 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."
Down 2-0 and heading to the nation's capital for a pair of games, the Bulls will need to iron out a number of issues: fourth quarter offensive woes, how to slow down John Wall, how to force Bradley Beal into worse looks in halfcourt sets. But before they can attack Friday's game, they'll need to put Tuesday's game -- specifically Hinrich's missed free throw -- behind them.
"I think we’ve got to move on. Sun’s going to come out tomorrow. I wish I would have knocked those two free throws down to give us a chance in double overtime, but I wasn’t able to do it. (We've) got to move on and focus on Game 3."