Monday night’s attempt to get back to a .500 record on the season and remain undefeated in 2014 proved unsuccessful for the Bulls (17-19), as they fell to the Wizards (17-19), 102-88, at the United Center, ending their five-game winning streak in a game they never once led.
After the Wizards jumped out to an 8-0 start—all five Washington starters got on the board in the early going—Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau halted the proceedings, in the hopes that his team would finally show some signs of resistance.
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They did, fighting back to make the opening period competitive, with rookie swingman Tony Snell (12 points) providing a spark off the bench. But it was enough to get out of the early hole and after both allowing 63.2 percent shooting from the field and being outrebounded 11-5 in the first quarter, the Bulls faced a 26-19 deficit.
Newly-acquired swingman Cartier Martin saw some action early in the second quarter, but even his knowledge of his former team couldn’t stop the Wizards from extending their lead to double digits, as Washington’s balanced attack—talented young shooting guard Bradley Beal (13 points) and reserve sharpshooter Martell Webster (12 points) were particularly effective—continued to be efficient on offense.
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The Bulls used a 12-3 run to climb back into the contest, as Martin’s rugged all-around game, Carlos Boozer’s (19 points, seven rebounds) scoring and the playmaking of backup point guard D.J. Augustin gave them a boost, but behind point guard John Wall (19 points, seven assists, four steals), a potential first-time All-Star this season, and veteran wing Trevor Ariza (16 points, nine rebounds), the visitors maintained a comfortable margin of separation. At the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 56-43, having conceded 59 percent first-half shooting to their guests.
After the break, yet another 8-0 run was in order to start the half, this time in the Bulls’ favor, as the Boozer and Jimmy Butler (12 points)—showing no ill effects from a one-game absence due to a left-thigh injury—carried the scoring load, while veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich (eight points, eight assists) handled playmaking duties and All-Star center Joakim Noah (eight points, 16 rebounds) was his usual self on the glass.
It didn’t hurt that Washington began having issues finishing layups, but the Bulls’ positive momentum all but ground to a halt when Boozer missed a bunny with 4:10 to go in the third quarter. The game quickly went from 65-61 in the Wizards’ favor to the Bulls’ facing a 12-point deficit in little over a minute.
Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were down, 78-68, after a Taj Gibson (eight points, seven rebounds) tip-in with 3.9 seconds left in the period was immediately followed by Wizards reserve guard Garrett Temple’s (10 points) buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the frame.
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The Bulls made little headway in the early portion of the fourth quarter, but fortunately for them, the Wizards weren’t able to muster up much scoring either, keeping the gap between the two teams in roughly the same neighborhood. Snell sparked the Bulls by making hustle plays and enabled the gap to be narrowed into single digits midway through the period, then a two-possession contest.
But just as it seemed as if the Bulls would be able to make a comeback and extend their 2014 winning streak to six consecutive games, the backcourt of Wall and Beal made clutch shots to stem the tide, while Nene (19 points)ncontrolled the interior, ensuring that it wasn’t to be and the two teams, in a battle for fifth place in the woeful Eastern Conference, would end the evening with identical records.