Tonight on CSN: Bulls look to avoid slow start in Game 5

Tonight on CSN: Bulls look to avoid slow start in Game 5
April 29, 2014, 7:00 am
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Mark Strotman

Only eight teams have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA playoffs. Tonight the Bulls begin their quest to become the ninth as they take on the Wizards at the United Center on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, where Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue preview tonight's matchup, give their keys to the game and predict the outcome. Then stick with CSN after the game for Postgame Live, where we'll have highlights, analysis and locker room reaction from Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Bulls.

Here's a statistic that should make your head hurt: In the first four games of their first-round playoff series, the Bulls have outscored the Wizards in the second, third and fourth quarters combined, 293-285. Unfortunately for Tom Thibodeau's group, there are four quarters. And in that pesky first quarter, the Bulls have been outscored, 113-88, having trailed in all four contests through the first stanza. Owners of the league's worst scoring offense in the regular season (93.7 points per game), the Bulls must improve on those slow starts or face yet another tall task of playing catch-up against a Wizards offense that leads the Eastern Conference in postseason scoring (99.5 points per game) and is gaining more confidence by the minute in this best-of-seven series.

Fast starts are nothing new for the Wizards, who averaged 26.8 points per first quarter in the regular season, fifth most in the NBA. With an offense built to run (they were ninth in the NBA in fast-break points per game) and the tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal running the offense, Washington has set the tempo in each of the four games: In Game 1 the Wizards led 19-13; in Game 2 they led 15-6; in Game 3 they led 15-8 and in Game 4 they exploded out of the gates without Nene, leading 17-2 after scoring the game's first 14 points.

[RELATED: Bulls' history bleak when trailing 3-1 in playoffs]

The Bulls have had other offensive issues in the series, notably fourth-quarter scoring droughts that have allowed the Wizards to make late comebacks and Jimmy Butler shooting just 38 percent from the field on more than 10 attempts per game. Even the defense hasn't been up to par, but it's those slow starts that are putting them in a bind.

In game in which the Bulls outscored or tied their opponent in the first quarter, they were 35-9; when the Bulls trailed after one period of play, they were just 13-25. So while a first-quarter deficit wasn't a death sentence, a first quarter lead put the Bulls on pace for 65-win season. Once the Bulls took an early lead, that NBA-best defense locked down and won them nearly 80 percent of their games.

[RELATED: Bulls' habit of slow starts comes back to bite them]

And unsurprisingly, in the Bulls' three regular season contests against the Wizards, they led after one quarter in their lone win (26-18). And in their two losses to Washington, the Wizards led 26-19 and 30-27, respectively, through 12 minutes.

These defensive struggles aren't as simple as one player -- Thibodeau's philosophy of five-man defense and five-man offense supports that -- but Taj Gibson's emergence in the series could warrant more first-quarter minutes than the 16 combined minutes he's played so far.

It's something the Bulls must figure out to have a chance at salvaging this series, and it's all happening tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Stay with us all night long, and make sure to stay interactive on Bulls Pulse, your one-stop shop for everything social media. You can use #BullsTalk on Twitter to join the conversation with other Bulls die-hards.